Of course, I could always throw out some pithy comment on this vote and that vote, but I generally strive to write articles of actual substance. Without the time or manpower to adequately focus on the state senate, I've found myself only really taking the opportunity to write on the controversies that have arisen - such as David Hergert's long march to impeachment and the curtain being pulled on the self-righteous Sen. Mike Foley's lies.
Though I regret not being able to write about every vote and going-on in the state legislature (a task that really would require a second contributor this time of year), I nevertheless keep an eye on its activities and debates as best I can. As this short 2006 session winds down, much work has been done and much remains on the table.
Still, despite all this activity, I must report that the efforts of one Senator have really stood out in these waning weeks of the session. He is one of the 20 senators who will not be returning to the legislature next year because of term limits, and he has proven of late just how much his leadership will be missed on the senate floor. I speak, of course, of Lincoln's 24-year veteran State Sen. Chris Beutler.
While Beutler has always been an active contributor to floor debates on almost any legislative issue, he has really taken the lead on a couple of issues in this sunset session of a most impressive political career that are likely to leave a lasting legacy in the lives of his constituents and a more progressive government that will benefit the entire state for years to come.
Most important of the issues on which Beutler has taken the lead and succeeded in winning over a majority of state senators was in his defense and long-sought reforms of Nebraska's campaign finance laws. The impressive and surprisingly successful system established in the early 1990s - in large part thanks to a younger Beutler's efforts - had, sadly, been proven easily-manipulated by a few unscrupulous and free-spending candidates willing to exploit loopholes that became apparent when they pushed the ethics envelope.
Nebraska's campign finance laws had also been under attack for years by the likes of current Speaker of the Legislature Kermit Brashear. Brashear had been the most vocal critic of the system, using his position of influence to thwart Beutler's attempts to reform the system these last several years. Well, this year, in the last ideological battle between Brashear and Beutler on this issue, Beutler finally won the day - closing some of the loopholes that had been revealed and adding more bite to punish violations. This was a well-deserved success for Beutler that will surely prove a victory for the voters of Nebraska who will see fairer elections and less compromised government.
On a very much related issue - Regent David Hergert's potential impeachment, which remains before the legislature but awaits a final vote - Beutler has also taken a leading role with Sen. Ernie Chambers in seeing that Hergert be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law for his violation of the people's trust and, as has recently come to light, even his oath of office.
Though Hergert's fate is not yet known, it is largely thanks to the effort and dedication of Beutler that this important issue of honesty and integrity in government remains at the forefront of the public's imagination. Of course, Hergert's offensive and immoral conduct played a large part in turning the tide for Beutler's campaign finance reforms - proving not only Beutler's tenacity but also the value of his irreplaceable experience and political intelligence.
Finally, there is a real possibility that Nebraska will take an important step forward for the cause of economic justice by raising its minimum wage under another Beutler-submitted bill. The Republican Congress has allowed the federal government's minimum wage to reach an embarrassing level, and here our state has the opportunity and the duty to stand up for Nebraska values rewarding hard work and protecting families from economic exploitation.
Beutler's bill would raise the minimum wage in two steps, settling at a very reasonable and far more principled $6.26 before the end of 2007. Such a change would be more than a declaration of principle but would have a real positive impact in the lives of Nebraska's less fortunate citizens, particularly its youth and those struggling to get off of public assistance.
Regardless of the ultimate success rate of these efforts, Sen. Beutler deserves the thanks of the entire state for the principles he has defended and the character he has shown by his chosen priorities in what is likely to prove his final legislative session. He is not the only state senator who will be sorely missed after term limits take effect, but it's safe to say no other senator's loss shall be more keenly felt by Nebraska's working class and those concerned with good government.
Thank you, Sen. Beutler. You have been a true public servant for years, setting an example for which every incoming state senator should strive to uphold. For the good of our state and the city of Lincoln, we should only be so lucky that you might hear the call to service once again.