Proposal panned to inject political party affiliation into voting on legislative races

By: - February 3, 2022 4:33 pm
Floor of the Nebraska Legislature

The floor of Nebraska’s unique Unicameral Legislature. (Rebecca S. Gratz for Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — If public testimony is any guide, a proposal to label candidates for the Nebraska Legislature by their party affiliation isn’t likely to make its way onto the 2022 ballot.

A long line of people, including four former state senators, testified against the idea Thursday, saying it would make the state’s unique, nonpartisan Unicameral Legislature more divisive and partisan, like Washington, D.C., and less responsive to voters.

“This sort of bill is a step in the wrong direction,” said former State Sen. Mike Gloor of Grand Island.

Former Kearney Sen. Galen Hadley, a former Speaker of the Legislature, told a legislative committee that colleagues from other states were often envious of Nebraska’s unique Unicameral.

State Sen. Julie Slama
State Sen. Julie Slama
(Courtesy of Unicameral Information Office)

One reason, he said, was that leadership positions were not dictated by political parties but chosen by the 49 senators, via secret ballot, based on who they thought were the best candidates.

“I don’t think we want to look like Washington, D.C.,” Hadley said.

Sterling Sen. Julie Slama introduced the proposed constitutional amendment, which would remove the clauses that require candidates to be nominated “in a nonpartisan manner” and not be labeled as a Democrat, Republican or independent on the ballot.

Her proposal would require voter approval if advanced by the Legislature. Slama billed it as a “simple transparency measure” that would let voters know the party affiliation of candidates when voting.

She cited a report indicating that Nebraskans have a higher rate of skipping a vote for legislative candidates because voters can’t identify their party affiliation.

“We owe it to our voters to be honest with them,” Slama said.

The lone person who testified in favor of Legislative Resolution 282CA, Charlotte Ralston of Lincoln, said that the “nonpartisan experiment” had failed and that it was time to end “the charade” that political parties have no influence on state lawmakers.

One opponent of the idea, Westin Miller of the voter rights group Civic Nebraska, said that not listing the political party affiliation of legislative candidates forces voters to learn their views on issues and not just find out if they are Democrats or Republicans.

Opponents of the proposal said it could lead to other, further steps to make the Legislature more partisan.

The Legislature’s Executive Board took no action on the proposal following the public hearing.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska state government and the state for decades. Previously with the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha Sun, he is a member of the Omaha Press Club's Hall of Fame. He grows hops, brews homemade beer, plays bass guitar and basically loves traveling and writing about the state. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation.

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