George Dungan III is entering the Nebraska political landscape for the first time, following a career as a public defender – disheartened by growing political division, he said.
Dungan, a Democrat, is running to represent Nebraska’s 26th District as state senator, which encompasses northeast Lincoln and neighbors the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s East Campus. He faces Republican candidate Russ Barger in a district where neither party has a partisan lean of 55% or greater, which makes it a “battleground race”.
In this upcoming election, Dungan is focused on building public safety, funding public education and expanding healthcare access.
Dungan was raised in Lincoln, and attended college at the University of Kansas where he received his undergraduate degree before getting a law degree from American University. Following graduation, he moved back to Lincoln where he worked at the Lancaster County Public Defender’s Office for 9 years, a job he said he quit one month ago.
“As a public defender, you’re working with judges, prosecutors and law enforcement to get the best outcome for everyone,” Dungan said. “The ability to work across the aisle is something that I bring to the table, so I thought ‘let’s give it a shot.’ It seemed like there was a need for people who are able to put things together in a time where there's just a lot of division.”
For Dungan, representing younger people meant creating an environment where people feel safe and welcome. His mentioned solutions involved investing in broadband access, cultural centers and better paying jobs.
He added that older generations were legislating more so out of fear, in regards to LGBTQ+ or reproductive rights issues. Dungan focused on protecting access to contraceptives and safe abortions, saying it was a scary time for young citzens.
As someone who left the state and came back, he emphasized that politicians should be focused on making the state more welcoming towards individuals who might have left earlier.
“One thing that I always felt when I was younger is that the older generation talks a lot about how the youth is the future, but they don't listen,” Dungan said. “We hear all this talk of young people leaving the state, and need to make sure that we're creating a safe and welcoming place for everybody, and make sure we’re creating policies that don’t make you afraid to live here.”
Dungan stressed the importance of providing public safety, which he said was the only thing he agreed upon with his opponent. For a solution, he cited a balance between full funding towards law enforcement and expanding access to mental health and substance abuse services. He said that in his time as a public defender he saw an extreme need for more of these resources, as they can lead to problems which require police intervention.
“You can’t create safer neighborhoods without providing services for people before the bad stuff happens,” he said.
Another focus was the funding and prioritization of K-12 public education. He cited a “hyper-politicization” of education that has occurred on a national level. In 2021 over 1,000 Nebraska teachers said they planned on leaving their job before the end of the year.
“Teachers must be supported if we’re going to have high-quality educators,” he said. “I know a lot of people, who are friends of mine, who were teachers that have left the profession because they felt unsupported by administrators, by politicians and by the legislature.”
Dungan placed just 290 votes behind Barger in the May primary. Today, voters will choose between the two for a final time, and decide who represents northeast Lincoln in the Nebraska Legislature.
“When you represent a district, you represent everyone in the district,” Dungan said. “You don't just represent people who voted for you. And so I think there's absolutely places that we can all find common ground on issues. There's always stuff we can agree on.”