The following editorial first appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star.
Eighty years of proud, nonpartisan independence in Nebraska will be threatened at the start of the next session of the Legislature if Republican Party operatives have their way.
With 17 new senators in the chamber, party stalwarts plan another attempt to change the rules that have been in place since the nonpartisan, one-house Legislature was implemented in 1937.
The GOP operatives want to end the practice of secret votes for leadership positions. The party has been rankled for years that occasionally Democrats win enough votes to chair a committee.
The attempt is a serious case of overreach. Republicans don’t even have a majority of the registered voters in the state; they’re outnumbered by the combined total of Democrats, registered nonpartisans and Libertarians, according to the totals on file at the Secretary of State’s office.
The party has attempted to sell the change as a step toward transparency. The argument doesn’t hold up to examination.
If votes are public, unelected party leaders will pull the strings from GOP headquarters.
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If anyone thinks the GOP operatives will be satisfied with keeping Democrats out of leadership positions, they’re fooling themselves.
The behind-the-scenes operatives want to be able to pick their chairs themselves, and control who advances in the party hierarchy. Making the votes public allows the unelected operatives to reward those who vote in accordance with their wishes and punish those who do not. Key decisions on legislative affairs will be made behind closed doors and senators ordered to toe the party line.
The legendary independence of Nebraska’s state senators in the nation’s only nonpartisan unicameral Legislature was already under attack. Gov. Pete Rickets turned on GOP incumbents who had strayed from his dictates in the last election, funding and endorsing their opponents. There’s little doubt that he’ll be pulling more strings in the next session.
Also influencing election outcomes and attacking Republicans who dared step out of line were donor-supported groups like Americans for Prosperity and shadowy out-of-state groups like Trees of Liberty.
Anyone who wants to look at how political parties can mess up government need only look at Washington. If party bosses start calling the shots in the Legislature, they’ll look at issues from the perspective of how they can be used to further partisan advantage – not how they can be addressed for public benefit.
Nebraska has been well-served by a nonpartisan legislative branch in which lawmakers think for themselves and make independent decisions on the basis of what is best for the constituents.
When an attempt was made in 2015 to make public senators’ votes for leadership positions the proposal was voted down 33-12. We hope senators defeat the attempt again next year.