About the only difference between the national election environment that exhausts Americans and Nebraska’s legislative races is that the latter lacks Ds and Rs.
The attack mailers, advocacy group report cards and money flowing into these competitions could easily lead Nebraskans to believe their Legislature, the only nonpartisan body of its kind in the country, no longer held that distinction.
Action in the chamber hasn’t allayed many fears, either.
Republicans chair nearly all legislative committees today, with their legislative experience often taking a back seat to their politics. Democrats, meanwhile, control only 16 seats – but they frequently vote in unison and require just one additional senator to join with them to form a coalition that can sustain a filibuster and block any cloture vote.
Partisanship once tended to rear its head mostly during redistricting, as lawmakers tried drawing advantageous boundaries; it was hard to find respite from it in this rough-and-tumble session.
To a lesser extent, these same concerns also extend to officially nonpartisan City Hall. Though tensions have eased slightly from 2016 when Democratic Mayor Chris Beutler sued a Republican City Council majority over whose budget was official, partisan divides remain evident today.
When city leaders rolled out the proposed joint public agency to address school safety and programming, the council’s three Republican members groused about being left in the dark while the administration worked with a Democratic majority deemed more likely to support the idea.
The concept of a nonpartisan elected office, of officials more accountable to their constituents than party leaders, is noble. But that theory was rooted in era where money in politics was far less of a factor than it is today.
Perhaps the timing of this editorial couldn’t be more fitting, with voters having decided Tuesday on the best choices for half the seats in the Legislature.
Following a pair of bruising campaigns near Lincoln that were punctuated with an influx of out-of-state money, it’s clear that the end goal of victory has superseded the lofty ideals that led Nebraskans to enact an earth-shattering experiment in government more than eight decades ago. The current system was designed to be ostensibly freer of party influences than its peers.
With the nonpartisan Legislature increasingly straying from its roots, Nebraskans face a decision. Do they want the nation’s only unicameral statehouse to have 49 senators fully committed to legislating and not answering to parties, or would we prefer to abdicate George Norris’ vision in favor of a body where partisan affiliations are worn proudly like sports jerseys?
That decision must be made by voters, electing men and women who put the public over party. If Nebraskans don’t, we must give up our claim to this honorable model.