A tilting in the Legislature’s partisan balance. The need for a new set of state senators to step up and take on leadership responsibilities now that term limits have pushed out key lawmakers. The return of a 38-year veteran.
Those are some of the key points to emerge from Tuesday’s elections for the Nebraska Legislature.
The political balance tilted slightly. Republican ranks in the 49-member Legislature will drop from 33 now to 30 next year, while the Democratic numbers will grow from 15 to 17. Two other lawmakers are independents.
This was a bit of a political setback for the Republican governor, who lent his name directly on behalf of GOP legislative contenders. The outcome would appear to heighten the likelihood that the Legislature will give close scrutiny to any tax-cut package he proposes. It also suggests that Gov. Dave Heineman will face a significant challenge if he chooses to renew the fight over state funding for prenatal care for illegal immigrant mothers. The Legislature, with the strong backing of Speaker Mike Flood, voted last spring to fund such services, overriding a veto by Heineman.
This situation shows the risk any governor takes when getting heavily involved in races for Nebraska’s officially nonpartisan Legislature. If the candidates a governor opposes wind up winning, the relationships certainly could be strained.
Heineman said he looks forward to working with lawmakers, and regardless of party, state senators should uphold the legislative tradition of working out differences in a constructive, nonpartisan way. The Legislature in recent years has commendably followed that approach on a range of tough issues, including the Commission of Industrial Relations, budgeting and the Keystone XL pipeline.
Tuesday’s results also made clear that the majority of Nebraska voters want members of the Legislature to see themselves as citizen-legislators and not career politicians. That was the message from rejection of a pay raise for lawmakers, as well as the emphatic “no” to allowing legislators to serve a maximum of three terms rather than two.
At the same time, the fact remains that the Legislature does complicated, challenging, often technical work (the state budget exceeds $7 billion, for one), and that requires capable, conscientious Nebraskans willing to serve. This is especially important for the 2013 legislative session, given that term limits are pushing out the speaker and the heads of four major committees.
New leaders need to step up and fill those and other positions. On that score it was encouraging that voters returned Sen. Galen Hadley, a respected member of the tax-setting Revenue Committee, and Sen. Kate Sullivan, a major voice on the Education Committee.
Then there’s the fact that Ernie Chambers is returning to the Legislature after a four-year, term limits hiatus. Talk about ironic. Now that term limits have swept out so many veteran lawmakers, Chambers’ long experience in the State Capitol and his skills in shaping the course of legislation could be stronger than ever.
All told, this year’s election results have set the stage for a most interesting 2013 legislative session.