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Straight Talk From Steve: Non-partisan Legislature

Some of you can still remember the old television detective show, Dragnet. Sgt. Joe Friday's most famous line on that TV show was, "just the facts ma'am!" The implication of that statement was that good police work derives its conclusions from facts, not from opinions. In the same mentality of Sgt. Joe Friday today I would like to share with you "just the facts" about what some like to refer to as the nonpartisan Unicameral Legislature.

When the Unicameral Legislature was created back in 1937, George Norris convinced State legislators that the success of a Unicameral Legislature would depend upon legislators working together harmoniously in a nonpartisan way. But Sen. George Norris' desire for the Unicameral Legislature turned out to be nothing more than wishful thinking. The Unicameral Legislature has been partisan ever since its inception and it will continue to be partisan in the future.

That the Unicameral Legislature is a partisan body, and not a nonpartisan body, is not something that you have to take from me. All you have to do is open up and read the headlines of any Nebraska newspaper following the election on November 8. Nearly every newspaper referred to the Unicameral Legislature in partisan terms. For example, On November 9 the Scottsbluff Star Herald ran a story entitled, "Balance of power in Nebraska Legislature tips in favor of Republicans." On November 9 another article written by Paul Hammel appeared in the Nebraska Examiner with the headline, "Republicans may have gained a filibuster-proof majority in Nebraska Legislature." Then, on November 11 an article written by Martha Stoddard in the Omaha World Herald contained the headline, "Lead Change in Omaha legislative race jeopardizes GOP hopes of filibuster-proof majority." Perhaps, someone forgot to tell the media that the Unicameral Legislature is nonpartisan! For once the media may have got it right.

As you can see, not one of these headlines gave any indication whatsoever that the Unicameral Legislature is a nonpartisan body! Instead, each headline insinuated the partisan nature of the Unicameral Legislature. If the Unicameral Legislature really is supposed to be a nonpartisan body, then its political make-up should be of no concern to those in the press. But, as you can clearly see, journalists in Nebraska care deeply about the political make-up of the State Legislature because they know that political Parties matter in the State Legislature.

To be sure, there really is no such thing as a nonpartisan Legislature no matter what George Norris ever said. No nonpartisan Legislature has ever existed anywhere in America. This is a political fact, and it remains a fact even though some people like to say otherwise.   

If you read each of the news articles mentioned above, you will see how concerned our reporters are about how many Republicans and how many Democrats get elected to the State Legislature. The idea that any Political Party should ever gain a filibuster proof majority only matters when one truly believes that the State Legislature is a partisan body.

So, if it is true that the Unicameral Legislature really is a nonpartisan body, then the orientation for the newly elected senators, which occurred last week, would not have had to spend a significant amount of time trying to explain what the word "nonpartisan" really means. Something that is true by way of definition or by nature should not have to be explained, but what really happened last week was a matter of indoctrination. Those who presented the talks during the orientation hoped to convince our newly elected Senators that it is an unpardonable sin to act in a partisan ways.

Let's just say that the real number of those who believe that Nebraska has a nonpartisan Legislature is less than those in Pennsylvania who voted for John Fetterman for the U.S. Senate! The reality is that the Unicameral Legislature is a partisan body and it has always been a partisan body. It is time for State Senators to admit that fact, to pull up their big boy pants or big girl pants, and move on with the business of the State!

If you wonder why we can't pass very simple legislation like placing our national motto which appears on our coins and on our currency as "in God we trust" in our schools, the answer is that the Unicameral Legislature is a partisan body which is controlled in many ways by a 35 percent partisan minority! And, those are "just the facts, ma'am."


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