We here in Nebraska are lucky to have a non-partisan legislature. This unique system allows State Senators to work across party lines and ignore the parochial demands of partisan party bosses. Thanks to the vision and wisdom of George W. Norris, Nebraska enjoys a large budget surplus and a healthy economy. We have fared much better than many states that have become mired in partisan warfare.
Kansas is an object lesson in the dangers of a partisan legislature. During the 2012 election cycle, Sam Brownback and the Koch brothers campaigned to purge Democrats and moderate Republicans from the Kansas legislature. After the completion of this bitter purge, Brownback pushed through a series of large and irresponsible tax cuts for the wealthy. As a result, the Sunflower State now suffers from a record budget deficit as well as subpar economic growth and job creation.
North Carolina is another state that has suffered from the evils of excessive partisanship. The Republican controlled legislature in the Tar Heel state recently passed a law that requires a transgender person to use a public bathroom that matches his or her gender at birth. Since the passage of that reactionary legislation, businesses have begun to boycott North Carolina and the NCAA passed a binding resolution that all sites that want to host a NCAA sporting event must “provide an environment that is safe, healthy, and free of discrimination.”
Washington D.C. is also plagued by extreme Republican partisanship. Since President Obama was inaugurated in 2009, the Congressional Republicans have done everything they can to undermine his Presidency and make him fail. The GOP members of Congress have hurt the American people by blocking job creation legislation and even sabotaged the economy with a default threat in 2011 and a government shutdown in 2013. The biggest threat to the economy right now are the radical Republicans who control the Congress.
Governor Pete Ricketts would like to bring the kind of job killing partisanship and gridlock that currently plagues Washington, D.C., Kansas and North Carolina to Nebraska. In the recently completed primary cycle, Ricketts, the Nebraska Republican Party and dark money groups aligned with the Koch brothers spent large sums of money in an effort to oust five State Senators. Those five Senators apparently had the temerity to oppose the rookie governor on a gas tax increase, the death penalty and drivers licenses for young immigrants. Senators Sue Crawford and Rick Kolowski were targeted in addition to three moderate Republicans.
These five incumbent Senators were bombarded with negative and dishonest mailers, robo-calls and radio advertisements. In these targeted races, the secret spending by these groups pushing the Ricketts agenda were in the vicinity of $50,000.00 – which was estimated to be double or even triple the amount spent by the five incumbent State Senators. This secret money was in addition to the $50,000.00 donated to the Nebraska GOP by Ricketts himself. Moreover, a well informed source at the Unicameral told me on background that the Nebraska GOP invested another $300,000 into these races.
On the heels of this onslaught, Ricketts at the Nebraska Republican Convention called out by name several GOP State Senators who had voted their conscience by opposing Ricketts’ radical and partisan agenda. In addition to the votes on the gas tax increase, driver’s licenses for the Dreamers, and death penalty, Ricketts cited votes on the Medicaid expansion and Nebraska’s split electoral vote law. Ricketts demanded that Republican voters elect so-called “platform Republicans” – who would prioritize the interests of the GOP party bosses over their constituents.
The blow back to Ricketts’ unprecedented and naked partisan appeal was significant. A bi-partisan group of thirteen State Senators (including one independent) signed a joint letter stating: “Governor Ricketts believes political party trumps principle…Our nonpartisan, unicameral legislature has lasted for 80 years, and, barring the will of the people for a new legislative experiment, we will not surrender our nonpartisan and constitutional duties… We support the Nebraska Constitution and not any particular political party.” Subsequent to signing this letter, Senator Laura Ebke quit the Republican Party and switched her registration to the Libertarian Party.
We Nebraska Democrats (and our fellow Nebraskans) face an unprecedented challenge from an immensely wealthy governor who has and will continue to spend huge sums of money to push his radical agenda. What we have here is one man (and one family) who are using their vast fortune to push the state in a direction that a majority of Nebraskans simply don’t approve. If Ricketts and the Koch brothers get their way, Nebraska will go the way of Washington, D.C., Kansas and North Carolina. We will end up with a broken economy like Kansas and a poisonous political climate like the one in Washington.
More than any election cycle, this one calls for unity among our fellow Democrats. On the national level, the U.S. can’t afford a President Trump. If Trump is elected, he will most likely have a Republican Congress. A President Trump and a GOP controlled Congress would destroy the economy and blow up the deficit with a $10 trillion tax cut for the wealthy. In addition, Trump has promised to send U.S. ground troops to both Iraq and Syria.
Closer to home, a Unicameral controlled by Ricketts and his supporters would squander Nebraska’s rainy day fund on tax cuts for the wealthy. This would damage Nebraska’s economy and cause large cuts in education, roads and health care. A legislature controlled by “Ricketts’ crickets” would pass hateful and regressive social legislation that would cause Nebraska to lose NCAA sponsored events and Omaha to lose the College World Series.
We Nebraska Democrats must be unified and work hard this fall. We have the better agenda and message. Once Nebraska voters become better acquainted with our candidates and message, we will win big this fall. The stakes are high. We can’t and won’t fail. Now let’s get to work!