Posted on September 30, 2015 at 10:36 AM
Congress is Broken but Nebraska May Have the Answer
“The Myth of the Red State” Report Details the Long Term Successes of Nebraska’s Adoption of a Nonpartisan Election System
New York, NY- September 30, 2015 – Open Primaries, a national leader on election reform, today released a new report examining the results of Nebraska’s adoption of a single, nonpartisan primary election system. The Myth of the Red State: Policy Over Party in the Nebraska State Capitol demonstrates that while Congress and many state legislatures have fallen prey to partisanship and dysfunction, the Nebraska political system is working.
Jeremy Gruber, Senior Vice President of Open Primaries and author of the report, states:
“In Nebraska debates on issues critical to the public prevail over partisan politics. The corrosive effects of partisan gamesmanship are diminished and productive legislating is thriving.”
Despite a legislature that is 71% Republican, the Nebraska system frees legislators from the dictates of partisan leaders and offers minority party members the opportunity to hold important committee chairmanships and get full hearings on their bills. Party affiliation does not mean that Nebraska legislators shy away from engaging on a wide range of issues, or even from passing legislation that would be considered progressive or left of center. This past year, in particular, Nebraska legislators enacted a number of progressive reforms that included overriding vetoes from the governor of their own party.
These have included:
- Death Penalty: Nebraska recently became the first red state to abolish the death penalty in more than 40 years
- Immigration Reform: In a significant victory for the immigrant community and its allies, the Nebraska legislature passed a bill over the governor’s veto that lifted the ban on driver’s licenses for young people brought to the U.S. illegally as children.
- Raising the Gas Tax: Rather than focus on party platforms, bipartisan backers successfully raised the gas tax over a veto by focusing on the critical infrastructure improvements that the new revenue would support and the economic benefits such improvements would bring to Nebraska.
- Raising the Minimum Wage: Nebraska voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative to raise the state’s minimum wage. Support from both sides of the aisle in the state legislature helped solidify the victory, along with an unusual coalition of wealthy citizens, labor unions and advocates for the poor.
Contrast this reality to Nebraska’s congressional delegation which is elected through a traditional partisan primary process and consistently votes the party line. In the partisan arena of Washington D.C., all the independence and creativity that are consistent hallmarks of the nonpartisan system have disappeared and nothing is getting done.
Nebraska’s nonpartisan system offers a blueprint of good government and social innovation for issue advocates and political reformers nationwide. By shifting to a nonpartisan election system along with a unicameral legislature, the state has created an independent culture where inter-party work among members is standard, diverse coalitions of interest groups common, and constituents of all persuasions enjoy broad access to government. Nebraska is working.
The report includes original interviews with current and former Nebraska officials offering strikingly candid observations and experiences with the positive effects of nonpartisan elections.
The success of nonpartisan elections in Nebraska, coupled with similar successes in Washington and California and the growth of independent voters (43% in the latest Gallup poll), have contributed to the growth of the primary reform movement nationally. Activists in Alaska, Arizona, South Dakota, and Florida are working to place nonpartisan primary measures directly on the ballot. Legislators and Secretaries of State in Mississippi, Illinois, New Mexico and Oklahoma are working to advance legislation for primary reform.
The full report is available at
Available for Interview
Jeremy Gruber, author of The Myth of the Red State (based in New York City)
John Opdycke, President of Open Primaries (based in New York City)
About Open Primaries
Open Primaries is a national, nonprofit 501(c)(4) organization working to enact open and nonpartisan primary systems, counter efforts to impose closed primaries, educate voters, train and support spokespeople, and participate in the building of local, state and national open primaries coalitions.
More information about Open Primaries, its mission and work, can be found at www.openprimaries.org