Protect Our Unique Nonpartisan Legislature
September 13th, 2022
Dear friends and neighbors,
Failed Trump-supported Gubernatorial candidate Charles Herbster’s new political action committee is leading the highly partisan effort to scrap a fundamental pillar of our nonpartisan Unicameral: the unique system of electing committee chairs by secret ballot. Secret ballots allow lawmakers to base their votes on their own convictions and the needs of their districts, rather than taking orders from a political party. George Norris, who first advocated for the unicameral system, said that such a body would allow senators to concentrate on local interests without being influenced by national party lines. National party lines, he argued, often have little to do with local government.
Our legislature is not partisan. But it is personal. And that is what makes it unique and effective. There are 49 of us, each of us can introduce as many bills as we want, and each of us can designate our own personal priority bill. Any of us can speak on a bill and offer whatever motion or amendment we would like to on that bill or topic. This arrangement provides for meaningful representation of our constituents in government. We need not filter things through parties or outside forces like egotistical billionaires who are unable to get elected.
We also elect our leadership on a personal basis, in order to maintain some sense of civility. A function of the secret ballot is that if a candidate for a committee chair is not elected, that person need not brood and dwell on it and retaliate against their colleagues throughout the session by looking at the vote score. In other words, the secret ballot is a very pragmatic, yet important feature of our system of electing leadership. There’s always a way to forgive a colleague, move on and continue with the business of the state, instead of in-fighting, partisan or otherwise, within the body.
This is probably news to Charles W. Herbster and his lobbyist, longtime GOP staffer Rod Edwards, but even a casual observer of the legislature would know that most of the committee chairs were not even contested last session.
This proposed change is not about transparency. It’s about dismantling our Unicameral. Legislators are elected as chairs of committees not because of loyalty to a party or their political pedigree. They are elected because of their expertise and familiarity with the committee's subject matter, the legislative rules, or both. They are elected because they have the ability to facilitate a public body in a meaningful way that lets all sides of various issues be heard and weigh in on policy. They are elected because they are leaders among their colleagues, even those of differing political viewpoints. They should not be elected because Charles Herbster says that they are a ‘good senator.’
If the legislature considers rule changes, tradition, prerogative, and the historical authority of the legislative branch provides that the legislature should actually weigh its merits. And perhaps other elected officials' opinions may be considered, but the shortsighted and selfish motivations of a perennial self-funded candidate should not be. After all, no one has thought it wise to actually elect Charles W. Herbster to any office, ever. And since he has never been elected to anything, he’s never been elected to serve in the legislature. Of course, he has no understanding or appreciation for our rules, procedures, traditions, or the way that we do things there.
While I suppose money can buy you things like presidential appointments to show committees, along with staff and lawyers to defend yourself against sexual battery lawsuits, they should not be able to buy rule changes in our very unique unicameral government. This is not to say that the legislature should not consider the peoples’ opinions of who we represent when deciding what our rules should be. But, I for one, am not going to be bullied by political hitmen with an arbitrary late September deadline to sign onto some silly pledge.
I encourage my colleagues to reject that effort for what it is: an effort by Charles W. Herbster to try to be politically relevant. He’s never been in the legislature, to my knowledge he’s never even appeared and testified before a committee of the legislature. I don’t think he has any kind of knowledge of our legislative rules, procedures, or traditions. He is simply trying to heckle his way onto the stage of politics in the state.
Voting to eliminate secret ballots means voting to change our legislature into something partisan. Voting to change our system to majority and minority. This rule change does not promote the public interest and it does not promote transparency in the furtherance of the public interest. I took an oath to represent the people of my district, not to represent a party. I am proud to be for this nonpartisan institution and I am committed to protecting it.