LINCOLN, NE (December 30, 2022) – Two former Speakers of the Nebraska Legislature are sounding the alarm that the nonpartisan tradition of the nation’s only one-house legislature is being threatened. According to news reports, when the Legislature convenes in January there will be an effort to end secret ballot voting for leadership positions.
“As former speakers of the Legislature, we saw first-hand how the rules and traditions of the Legislature preserve nonpartisanship, which produces more thoughtful policy that serves the state as a whole,” said former speaker Greg Adams of York. Adams was Speaker of the Nebraska Legislature from 2013 to 2015.
“Private ballots have long been used for selecting internal leadership positions within school boards, county commissioners, private organizations and political caucuses in Congress. Republican majority Legislatures have maintained this process for decades because state senators from all political affiliations have recognized its benefits to the Legislature and to the state,” Adams said. Prior to serving in the Nebraska Legislature, Adams served on the York City Council and as Mayor of York.
“The nonpartisan structure of our Legislature has been the pride of Nebraskans since 1937,” said former speaker Galen Hadley of Kearney. Hadley succeeded Adams as speaker of the Legislature serving from 2015 to 2017.
“Nonpartisanship makes the senators more equal and independent,” Hadley said. “Instead of party leaders having the only meaningful voices in the body, all senators contribute their own strengths and experience to policy making. Lobbyists must work to persuade each senator, not simply the few party bosses who will then tell their members how to vote,” he said.
“Electing leadership positions for speaker and committee chairs using a private ballot allows senators the autonomy to vote for leaders they believe are most qualified to serve in those roles rather than who is most politically powerful. Otherwise, senators might be pressured to vote for a senator simply because they belong to the same political party. With only 49 members in the body, this preserves relationships so senators can work together and have a productive session,” Adams said.
“Returning senators demonstrate their statesmanship and commitment to Nebraska when they safeguard the rules that safeguard this unique institution. And newly elected senators should resist outside pressures to change these rules before they even experience serving in the Legislature. It’s unwise to change the longstanding and well considered rules of a branch of government before they can see for themselves why the rules exist,” Hadley said
“I’m concerned that a fight over the rules could also delay other agenda items the Legislature has scheduled for the start of the session, including the leadership elections themselves,” Hadley said.
“The road map we follow is an attempt to take partisanship out of the system. Political parties get in the way of truly representing the will of the people. All senators, regardless of party, can represent their constituents equally,” Adams said.