GOP, Dems battle over secret statehouse votes

Joe Jordan | Nebraska Watchdog

An apparent power play by Nebraska Republicans finds Democrats crying “shameful.”

On the heels of a Nebraska Watchdog report detailing a key GOP power shift in the backrooms of the Nebraska State Capitol, Nebraska Watchdog has learned that pressure is building to mold even more Republican clout.

With Republicans holding nearly three times more statehouse seats than Democrats, the GOP is pushing for even more clout.

Rank and file Republicans across the state are being urged to contact their state senators and demand “open votes” when lawmakers choose over a dozen committee chairs early next month. For years those votes have been cast in secret.

Arguing they are only interested in “transparency,” two top Republicans emailed their members Monday.

GOP State Chairman J.L. Spray writes, “We are not doing this (to) influence for whom (lawmakers) vote, but so we can see the votes or our elected representatives.”

However, Douglas County GOP Chairman Bryan Baumgart is upping the ante claiming that secret votes allow “backroom deals and promises” leaving the public in the dark.

Democratic State Chairman Vince Powers tells Nebraska Watchdog, “It is shameful that the Nebraska Republican Party wants to replace the USA’s best legislative system, comprised of hard-working independent senators with a party boss system based solely on loyalty to partisanship.”

“Year after year, important legislation (such as voter ID) has been held up in committee, as committee chairs refuse to allow the bills to come up for debate or vote,” says Baumgart, who is clearly frustrated with the GOP’s lack of leaders in Lincoln.

When state senators went home earlier this year, nine of 14 “standing committees” were run by Democratic chairs. This weekend Nebraska Watchdog reported that with half a dozen of those Democratic chairs term-limited and not returning, that 9-5 Democratic lead is expected to do an about-face, leaving the GOP with a 9-5 edge.

The GOP has consistently held a majority of seats in the Unicameral and that lead grew following an Election Day landslide which now finds 35 Republicans, 13 Democrats and one independent.

Any move for “open votes” would take a change in the legislature’s rules, a change that would have to be made before the committee ballots are cast shortly after the newly elected state senators take the oath of office in January.

“Senators will begin caucusing any time now!,” warns Baumgart. “Contact your state senators and let them know the importance of open and accountable representation.”

16 months ago the Nebraska GOP voted unanimously against those secret statehouse votes. Chairman Spray labeled his email a “reminder.”

Powers has a different take: “The Nebraska Democratic Party believes strongly that state senators should vote for a committee chair who is best suited to serve Nebraska, regardless of party. Fortunately, most state senators know that their bosses are the people of Nebraska.”

Contact Joe Jordan at joe@nebraskawatchdog.org.

Joe can be heard on Omaha’s KFAB radio every Monday morning at 7:40, KLIN in Lincoln every Tuesday morning at 7:35 and KHAS-AM in Hastings every Wednesday at 7:30 a.m. and 12:45 p.m.

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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