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Voter frustration is high. The lack of expediency and political will to address complex issues like tax reform and abuse of the public trust as seen in the recent Tourism Commission debacle leave voters disenfranchised. Voters throughout District 38 frequently express a sense of bewilderment regarding actions of the Nebraska Legislature that are out of step with the values of a majority of Nebraskans. I am frequently asked “What’s going on up there in Lincoln?” in conversation with constituents.
Public confidence in their government requires transparency and accountability. The votes I cast as a state senator are public votes, visible to the public for scrutiny. Accountability for my votes does not occur only at the ballot box. I have an obligation to be forthright during my term with my constituents about the votes I cast.
At the state Republican Convention last month, Governor Ricketts discussed several issues of importance to the Republican party platform and Republican senators who voted in opposition. Stating the public votes of elected officials at a political convention has drawn the ire of some editorial boards and a handful of state senators. I am bewildered by the criticism.
The Nebraska Legislature is officially nonpartisan. As a matter of practice and organization, this means that political party affiliation has no bearing on committee assignments or legislative leadership. Party affiliation does not appear on the ballot, nor are candidates restricted to a specific party on the primary ballot. I value this tradition. No threat to this process exists.
That said, the party affiliation of each senator is well known among other senators, voters, and the media. It is frequently referred to in reporting. The fact that party affiliation does not play a role in the organization of the Legislature does not mean individual senators are devoid of political ideology, nor does it mean voters are unconcerned with the political party of their state senator.
I am a Republican. That is not merely a superficial label I chose as an 18 year old when I registered to vote. It is a reflection of my principles and view of the role of government. It is a signal to voters of a slate of practical issues to which I subscribe. While I am in no way bound to adhere to a formal party platform, I have an obligation to be honest and forthright with my constituents when I depart from my publicly stated positions. Voters deserve that transparency and accountability.
Open and frank discussion of public votes by elected officials should not be stifled under any circumstance. Among all of the defense of the institution of the Nebraska Legislature, separation of powers, and the independence of state senators, the most important component of state government has not been mentioned: the voters. Every opportunity for the public to know and understand the context in which elected representatives vote on issues important to them should be encouraged, not criticized. An informed electorate is the very foundation of our representative democracy.