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Concerning Trends in Nebraska Politics



Nebraska is a traditionally independent-minded state composed of decent, hardworking, and thoughtful people. Those facts are uniquely expressed in our state's nonpartisan unicameral and the other political institutions that make up our government.


There is no doubt, however, that unaccountable one-party domination is threatening the ideals of Nebraska and our institutions. Over the past several years, the nation as a whole has become further partisan and polarized. Nebraska is not exempt to those forces though they have been temporarily balanced by our institutions. This article seeks to explain the forces pushing against Nebraska values, how Nebraskans have responded, and our potential future.

1. Unaccountable Local Government & Political Corruption

Local governments in Nebraska, especially village boards, are suffering from a crisis of unaccountability. Look no further than the various communities in Cass County impacted by financial mismanagement, political corruption, and poor governance.


In Alvo, residents continue to struggle with the ramifications of the tire pile and continued abuses of power from local elected officials. Tire Fire: Small town struggle over tire pile balloons into bitter battle over democracy


In Nehawka, the sudden resignations of three board members prompted a costly special election and left the town struggling to keep up with essential services. Political drama in Nebraska village causes unnecessary headaches, special election, residents say


In Cedar Creek, along with numerous other villages across the state, taxpayer money has been misused and stolen. Flurry of Fraud: Clerks have stolen from 17 Nebraska towns in past decade


You may be wondering what do any of these cases have to do with one-party domination of Nebraska politics? The answer is everything. The state officials all the way from Cass County State Senator Rob Clements to the Nebraska Attorney General and State Auditor fail to provide oversight or accountability. The culture of elected officials in the state must change to fix our accountability crisis. That shift can and must include Democrats, Independents, and enlightened Republicans.


2. Partisanship in the Nonpartisan Legislature

As local governments struggle with unaccountability and corruption, the state legislature struggles with elected officials and forces who wish to dismantle it. The people of Nebraska overwhelmingly adopted the nonpartisan unicameral system in 1937 following a campaign by U.S. Senator George W. Norris. Norris saw the corruption, partisanship, and failures of the federal government firsthand. He utilized his knowledge to propose a new system, an ideal legislature. Since the adoption of the nonpartisan unicameral, Nebraskans have continued to embrace the teachings of Norris.


Since the late 1990s, one-party has dominated politics at the state level including the Governor's office and the officially nonpartisan state legislature. This presents various problems for Norris' vision. As politics have become more polarized, one-party rule has driven our moderate institutions to the extreme and began to silence minority voices.


In the 2023 legislative session, lawmakers of the dominant party unilaterally abandoned the ideals of the nonpartisan unicameral. They pushed Nebraska to the extreme in order to ban abortion, target healthcare for transgender youth, institute permit-less carry of firearms, and send taxpayer money to private schools.


Now those same lawmakers wish to abolish the nonpartisan unicameral in its entirety. A partisan bicameral would further allow them to consolidate power and dominate the state. January of 2024 saw various rules proposals in the legislature that would fundamentally change the institution.


Nebraskans do not wish for our politics to be more like Washington D.C. Nebraskans voice concerns, skepticism of reverting to a bicameral Legislature


In this examination, we are further seeing the danger of one-party domination. One group of people should never be able to consolidate power and institute unpopular laws against the will of Nebraskans. Fixing this crisis again includes Democrats, Independents, and enlightened Republicans. Our elected state senators and other officials must be committed to Nebraska values and institutions. Voters must reject extremism. In the meantime, the Second House (the people of Nebraska) must communicate with our lawmakers.


3. Extremism & Threats to Public Education

Finally, Nebraskans are seeing an attack on public education from local school boards to the State Board of Education. Extremists like recently removed members of the Plattsmouth School Board Terri Cunningham-Swanson and current member of the State Board of Education Kirk Penner are a part of a wave of officials seeking to force their views on parents, students, and educators.


Through culture war topics like Critical Race Theory, Social Emotional Learning, LGBTQIA+ history, and sex education these officials have tried to demonize public schools and teachers. This comes at the same time as state lawmakers attempt to drive taxpayer money into private, often religious-based, schools.


These efforts compose a comprehensive threat to public education. Nebraskans again don't agree with extremism. Plattsmouth residents when given the opportunity voted by 62% to remove Cunningham-Swanson. Plattsmouth school board member recalled following library book controversy


Nebraskans know that public schools are the backbone of our communities. We must continue to support them. Again the coalition to support public education must extend beyond party lines. We must be vigilant of who is running for school boards and the State Board of Education. We must vote for officials who will not bring an extremist and anti public education agenda to our boards.

Conclusion

The political corruption in local government, partisanship in our state legislature, and threats to public education all stem from one-party domination of Nebraska politics. Nebraskans must finally reject one-party domination. What can you do? Stay Informed, Stay Engaged, Contact your Elected Officials, Run for Office, and Vote!

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