Turn on the TV, check out political social media, and there they are — hyperpartisan members of Congress preening before cameras, impugning the character of their political opposites, depicting any mention of serious compromise as unthinkable.
They stare into the camera or batter away at the keyboard, pandering to their party’s extreme, putting politics before policy.
Such indulgence has pulled national politics down a terrible path, leaving Americans bitterly divided and major issues unaddressed. Yes, people have honest differences in values and perspectives, and hard-fought battles are inevitable and serve the public interest. But these days, the usual result is deadlock and hatemongering when the nation needs constructive compromise and trust-building.
All this relates directly to the Nebraska Legislature.
Men and women are now stepping forward to seek election to serve in our state’s legislative branch. That’s encouraging to see — every two years, about half of the Legislature’s seats are up for election. It’s crucial to replenish the Legislature with capable, dedicated Nebraskans.
But those candidates, regardless of party or ideology, have an important obligation: If elected, do not bring a destructive Washington-style mindset with you into the State Capitol.
Stand up for your values, of course. Defend your district’s interests, no question. But have the maturity to contribute constructively to decision-making and the integrity to keep lawmaking from tumbling into bitterness and spite. In particular, uphold the Legislature’s positive operating culture and safeguard its authority against encroachment by the executive branch.
The Legislature’s culture brings great benefits to responsible lawmaking by tamping down partisan excesses. It encourages individual members to decide issues for themselves rather than having party bosses turn them into partisan robots. Senators have the freedom, regardless of party, to serve as committee chairs and to spearhead significant legislation.
This culture encourages transparency and deliberative decision-making. It maximizes the opportunity for any senator — whether staunch conservative, committed progressive or dedicated centrist — to contribute, rather than having a single faction control everything and strongarm anyone not in the favored clique. It gives senators in the minority on an issue the chance to make their case and sometimes prevail through filibuster.
In contrast to the dynamic in Washington, the culture at the Legislature makes it more difficult for the political extremes to seize control and prevail.
It’s distressing to see how a Congress-style mindset has already seeped into the Legislature to a considerable extent. Many GOP state senators and activists make their displeasure clear with Republican colleagues who regularly work with Democratic members. Similar attempts at shaming occur on the other side of the partisan aisle, as Democrats who reach out to Republicans earn suspicion and reproach from ideological purists.
Republican schemes to torpedo priority bills from first-term Democrats have been transparently blatant and opportunistic.
In this wired political era, floor debate in the Legislature has often descended into partisan-focused theatricality. Many senators, regardless of party, play to the camera and social media audience, where true believers expect all-out ideological allegiance and dutiful recitation of expected talking points. The all-important dialogue and negotiation needed to actually resolve problems often falls to other, off-camera lawmakers — who then are scolded by the party faithful for not being on TV or social media when the sparks were flying.
And yet, the positive operating culture at the Legislature has managed to prevail much of the time. Even hardline partisans sometimes awaken from the political hypnotizing and see the value in constructive compromise. Specific incidents have made clear how petty political scheming and partisan blowhardism can lead to dead ends. Individual lawmakers have stepped up to show leadership at important moments.
Most importantly, the need to build trust with colleagues — the linchpin of effective service in the Legislature — regularly asserts itself.
And so, consideration circles back to the 2022 election. State senators have vital responsibilities in Lincoln. Voters can help Nebraska’s future by supporting candidates who pledge to reject Congress-style politics and put the state’s public interest first.