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Statement on Charles Herbster's new "Nebraska First" PAC

Kearney, NE – Former Governor candidate Charles Herbster announced a new Political Action Committee dedicated to two issues: 1) constitutional carry and 2) getting rid of the nonpartisan ballot vote for leadership in the Nebraska Legislature. Nonpartisan Nebraska strongly opposes this change to the Legislature and objects to the insistence by Herbster and others that the use of a ballot vote for leadership elections in the Nebraska Legislature violates the Nebraska Constitution.

Ballot votes have been used by Nebraska lawmakers for leadership elections since the Unicameral’s first sitting on January 5, 1937–incidentally the same day that U.S. Senator George W. Norris (who led the constitutional amendment and helped draft the language being cited) praised the new unicameral legislature and stressed the importance of nonpartisanship.

The Nebraska Constitution provides the Legislature with two very powerful rights: the right to determine their own procedure and the right to elect their own officers. The election of officers is a distinct right and function granted to the Legislature, and these elections are fundamentally different from voting on questions of policy (like amendments, bills, motions, or appointments) that are referred to in the Constitution. The Legislature has used this procedure for nearly 90 years and has never once been stopped by the courts.

Opposition to the ballot vote in the Legislature is based on opposition to the nonpartisan unicameral structure. This is made obvious when you consider that no issue is raised with Congress using ballot votes when they vote in their party caucasus. It’s only an issue when the Legislature does it, apparently. Some seem to believe that the Nebraska Legislature should be more like Congress, more dysfunctional, and more easily controlled. Using a ballot vote makes it harder for outside influences to control leadership as lawmakers are encouraged to support the best person for the job rather than simply back one party or the other.

While it is inevitable that some senators will campaign behind the scenes for themselves or others to be elected to a particular post, the actual written vote is up to the individual senator. Were the voting to be done by voice or by roll call, we are certain the two major political parties will be watching and would reward or punish senators depending on how their votes align with their parties’ wishes.

Over time, that party influence will be obvious in that the party with a majority of members in the Legislature will automatically elect members of their own party to all the leadership positions. The result would be a de facto partisan body, a far cry from Senator George Norris’s model legislature.

Proponents of the rules change cite transparency and openness as their goals. We applaud the Unicameral’s dedication to transparency in committee and floor proceedings. But in this instance, a recorded vote for legislative leaders would cripple nonpartisanship and severely damage senators’ independence. Its negative effects would far outweigh the increased openness.

It seems most likely that doing away with the ballot vote would result in deal-making and trade-offs behind the scenes. How lawmakers vote, and whether they support their party, would be used against them in determining which committee assignment they are given and whether they are supported by their partisan peers. This would be trading the ballot vote for the imagine, not the reality, of transparency.

In this instance, the balance must come down on the side of nonpartisanship, one of the two fundamental defining principles on which our one-house Legislature is built.

Nathan Leach

Founder/Executive Director

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