Back Room Deals and Secrecy in the Nebraska Legislature
At the beginning of each new legislative session, Nebraska state senators decide who will chair each of the 14 standing committees through which bills must pass before they can be debated before the full body of the Legislature and potentially become law. Being the chair of a committee is a big deal as it places a lot of power into the hands of a small number of senators. On controversial bills, and on bills where senators are more closely decided on both sides of an issue, the committee chair wields great influence and power. Not only can the Chair make it difficult to push some bills through their committee, they can sometimes stall bills by carefully scheduling the hearings for times when the bill will have less of a chance of being voted out of the committee and onto the floor of the Legislature. If a bill does not make it to the floor of the Legislature, it dies. Additionally, the Chair controls the committee staff, which assists the Chair in achieving his or her objectives, and may act as an obstacle for bills which are not appealing to the Chair.
As you can imagine, the position of Committee Chair is a coveted position in each legislative session.
Unfortunately, we, the voters, never know how the Committee Chairs are selected. All we know is the name of the senator who comes out on top and ends up as the chairperson. This is because the election of Committee Chairs is conducted in secret. Those who receive the winning votes are the product of backroom deals, in which the few liberal senators make deals with a number of “moderate” senators, leaving truly conservative senators out of the inner circle. In the end, we typically see many or all of the key Chairs going to senators who are not conservative by any stretch of the imagination. Because of this, the powerful Committee Chairs turn the primarily conservative Nebraska legislative body into a much more liberal body. If you have ever found yourself wondering why the Nebraska Legislature has not passed more pro-life and pro-family bills into law over the years, you can look at this very problem and understand why.
Elected officials must be accountable for their votes. Backroom deals and other forms of political maneuvering is common in politics, but it should not be allowed to take place in secret and without accountability.
The Nebraska Legislature’s practice of secret votes for the chairs of the legislative committees flies in the face of modern concerns over transparency in leadership, political corruption, legislative gridlock, and a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. It is time to end this dishonest and unacceptable tradition.
The next legislative session (#107) opens on January 6, 2021. On the first day of the new session, the senators will cast their votes on Committee Chairs. It is essential that this vote be done publicly, by roll call, so each voter can see for whom his or her senator voted. This is essential because it will force all our senators to be open and honest about a key vote, right out of the gate. If you have a senator who is touted as a conservative, yet he or she votes for liberals to chair various committees, it is an obvious admission that your senator is not a conservative. In such a case, you have someone who is not being honest about their political agenda. Each senator must be held accountable.
Call and email your senator today and insist that he or she calls for a roll call vote on the Committee Chair elections. The secrecy and back room deals in the Nebraska legislative branch needs to end on January 6, 2021.