Posted by Russell Daniels on October 14, 2015 at 2:23 PM
Nebraska: a model of bipartisanship
Nebraska has a state legislature that is 71% republican. What does that mean to you? That kind of figure would usually imply a lot of things. It's a red state. Conservative values are upheld and republicans call the shots. But that is not what's going on in Nebraska. Nebraska's state legislature can serve as a real example and model of democracy and political innovation.
This is a positive example of how a state legislature can be effective. Real, tough conversations can be had without the whole system shutting down over partisanship. It breaks down the simple, archaic notion of "red states" vs. "blue states," because in Nebraska real stuff is getting done.
Nebraska has a unicameral, nonpartisan system and they have since 1934. While they are often labeled as a "red state," they operate in a unique way outside the constraints of a partisan system. First of all, their election process at the state level is set up in a way to incentivize voter inclusion and government transparency. They have a single, nonpartisan election where the top two candidates move on to the general election, regardless of party. Candidates do not have their party listed on the ballot.
There is a secret ballot to elect legislative officers and committee chairs, rather than party leader appointments. Every bill gets an open, public hearing no matter what, and legislators do not need party permission to introduce legislation.
They have weakened the party influence, and because of this they have strengthened the voice of the voter and the ability of its legislators to legislate. And the real proof is in the recent "progressive" reforms that have been enacted with a make up that's 71% Republican.
In any other state (i.e. Kansas), that sort of majority would mean that any progressive reform would never see the light of day. It would mean a one party state where the other party gets a seat at the table but has to wear a gag while sitting there. These are progressive reforms that have been passed in the past year in the "red state" of Nebraska:
- Repealing the death penalty
- Immigration reform (lifted the ban on drivers licenses to young people brought here illegally)
- Raising the minimum wage
- Raising the gas tax
Nebraska proves that there is room for growth in government when you decrease the influence of the parties. By getting them out of the process, the people of Nebraska and the legislators have room to have a say and to make the changes they believe in. State legislators are proud of the system they have there. The people of Nebraska are proud of their nonpartisan structure. The idea of "red state" and "blue state" is misleading and simple.
It doesn't take into account that human beings want to connect and help each other and see progress. We want our government to work. We live and work with people every day we may disagree with, but we make it work. We compromise or strategize or become creative in finding a solution. We have family members that are difficult, but we find ways to navigate through that. So, why can't our government? We have incentivized a partisan system where not only do they not have to, but they are rewarded for being partisan. Nebraska has not. That "Red State" is showing us all what it means to be truly progressive in political reform.