Posted by Kellie Ryan on October 02, 2015 at 2:31 PM
Nebraska government study: Nonpartisan elections empower independence
October 1, 2015—There's an interesting study out from a group called Open Primaries, which looked at Nebraska's unicameral legislature and non-partisan elections to find across-the-aisle cooperation without automatic rejection of ideas associated with the minority party.
"The legislature is generally free of the type of strong-arm partisan politics that characterize political activity in Congress and most state legislatures," the report states. "Although 71% of Nebraska representatives are registered members of the Republican Party, nonpartisan coalitions are commonplace and the legislature has engaged a wide range of 'progressive' issues, from abolishing the death penalty to immigration reform."
The report is here. And it explains:
- Legislative officers and committee chairs are elected by members using a secret ballot rather than appointed by a partisan leader.
- Minority party members are regularly appointed to committee leadership positions.
- Legislators do not need permission from party leadership to introduce legislation, and every bill gets an open, public committee hearing regardless of the member’s affiliation or party status.
This system empowers committee chairs because it's much more difficult to remove them. In Virginia, as in other states, if you don't toe the majority party line, it's fairly easy for the Speaker of the House or other leadership to just take the gavel out of your hand.
And it almost goes without saying that "every bill gets an open, public committee hearing" is not the typical legislative experience in other states. A Virginia study from earlier this year found that most of the bills killed in Virginia General Assembly die without a recorded vote.
"Nebraska serves as evidence that under a nonpartisan system debates over issues prevail over partisan politics, even in a state heavily dominated by one political party," Open Primaries report author Jeremy Gruber concluded. "Its nonpartisan system has created a more inclusive culture in the statehouse; one that embraces debate, new ideas, and different approaches to governance. Inter-party work among members is standard, diverse coalitions of interest groups common, and constituents of all persuasions enjoy broad access to government."