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OTHER VOICES: Nonpartisanship isn't problem in Nebraska Unicameral

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Look where partisan politics have gotten us. And Sen. Julie Slama thinks we need more?

Slama’s proposed legislation – LR282CA – would put a constitutional amendment on a statewide ballot to turn Nebraska’s nonpartisan Legislature into a partisan body.

"It's high time we end the idolatrous practice of celebrating Nebraska's nonpartisan unicameral simply because it's unique," Slama said in a statement as part of the measure’s introduction. “This form of government has failed to address structural issues in our state — from property taxes and school funding to Second Amendment rights — on the altar of being 'special.’”

Let’s be clear. If the nonpartisan legislature is failing, it’s the “legislature” part of that phrase – not the “nonpartisan” – that’s responsible.

Any Nebraska elementary student knows George Norris, who served for 40 years in the U.S. Senate and House, set Nebraska on this path. Nebraskans voted in 1934 to create a nonpartisan unicameral legislature – which is, indeed, unique in our nation – and the first session of it convened in 1937. So for four score and five years, this system has served Nebraskans.

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Perfectly? Of course not. No governmental body has. But would Slama, Gov. Pete Ricketts or any other elected official who has injected party into our politics argue that Nebraska has failed as a state? The progress and prosperity that they tout has come, indeed, under this system of government.

The failures of the last decade – tax reform, public school funding issues, issues where the Legislature could have led and instead punted to the populace via petition and ballot measure – weren’t the result of nonpartisanship. They were where lawmakers stopped asking what the people might have them do and started wondering what their party might have them do.

Regardless of one's view of the death penalty, the 2015 decision by the Legislature to abolish the death penalty in Nebraska and then override Gov. Pete Ricketts' veto, was a high water mark for nonpartisanship, where thoughtful debate changed minds and senators put principle over party.

Do we elect individuals to vote as a bloc or to exercise their own consciences and represent their own constituents? If it’s not the latter, why do we even put names on a ballot?

Slama is right in one respect. If lawmakers are going to put party first, they might as well be honest about it and stop calling what they do “nonpartisan.”

But the answer to our state’s problems – and our nation’s – isn’t to say, “Hey, this is just how we are," and lower our expectations of our lawmakers.

The answer is to expect more – and better – from the citizens we elevate to represent us. We need honest efforts at more nonpartisanship, not honest surrender to a political system ruled by parties that even our Founding Fathers recognized as a threat.


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