Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Unicam 2006: Closing Thoughts #2

by Kyle Michaelis
Here's the rest of my rundown of the actions during the 2006 session of the Nebraska state senate, continuing, as promised, from this post last week.

Prohibiting Funeral Protests
The state should always be wary of restricting peoples' right to free speech, though it's hard to defend those who would turn families' pain and loss into public spectacle. Of course, when these protests were only being staged at the funerals of homosexuals, the public turned a blind eye. Only when the miserable and pathetic "God Hates Fags"-crowd started targeting fallen soldiers did state senators decide to do something about them.

Ultimately, I have very mixed feelings - mostly because we've already lost the moral high ground by standing up for our neighbors and fellow citizens in uniform but not for those who love others of the same sex.

Campaign Finance Reform
Nebraska's already progressive campaign finance laws received a much-needed upgrade closing many of the loopholes exploited by several Republican officeholders in recent years. Their actions threatened the integrity of our entire system of public financing, making mockery of the rule of law. Thanks to the vigilance of Sen. Chris Beutler and the especially shameful conduct of Regent David Hergert, future candidates will have to think twice before attemping to cheat their way into state office.

Pay Raises for Elected Officials
A $20,000/year pay raise for Nebraska's governor - to an annual salary of $105,000 - is certainly nothing to sneeze at. The Attorney General and Secretary of State will also be seeing a $20K annual raise, with the State Treasurer and State Auditor seeing a whopping $25K bump. The poor, unappreciated Lt. Governor will see only $15K more in 2007, earning a lowly $75,000. Not that many Nebraskans would complain at being unappreciated like that.

These pay raises are probably a good idea in the long-term, though I hate the idea of all these Republican incumbents getting handed fatter pay checks without having to face a Democrat on the November ballot. Only the Sec. of State is going to have to earn it. Elected office is about power - not money - for most candidates, but hopefully this change will make the possibility of public service seem a little more inviting to a more diverse population.

In-State Tuition for "Undocumented" Grads of NE High Schools
After years of work by Sen. DiAnna Schimek, the passage of her plan to make higher education more accessible and affordable for the innocent but still undocumented children of illegal immigrants was the most inspiring moment of the 2006 session. That this bill passed over Gov. Heineman's unprincipled and politically-motivated veto - as the larger immigration debate reached a fever pitch nation-wide - may have also made for the most shocking development, though it was great to see that Nebraska still has room for compassion and common sense in its public policy.

Most of the young people affected by this bill are indistinguishable from their classmates. They speak the same language, listen to the same music, take the same tests. It's time for them to have the same opportunities for higher education as well. No matter what immigration reforms are coming, we can't turn our backs on these young people who live as Americans and are Americans but for their lack of a piece of paper. I am proud that Nebraska should prove so enlightened.

Hergert Impeached
The support of 25 Senators was needed to impeach the degenerate Regent and that's exactly how many stood up for decency and the rule of law. Other senators had their reasons for voting against impeachment - many supposedly worried about whether the impeachment would be sustained by the Nebraska Supreme Court. Such worries were misguided and were clearly manipulated by those who supported Hergert for more political reasons.

Frankly, the law is not clear, and - as such - the legislature was right to exercise its fullest form of condemnation for Hergert's unforgiveable conduct. There's no shame in asking the Supreme Court to interpret the state's Consitution. Regardless of whether they find Hergert's crimes impeachable or not, putting the question to them was the principled and responsible thing to do. The people of Nebraska have a right to know where the line is drawn on the criminality and misconduct of their elected officials.

No one has asked for Hergert to be singled out for punishment. Hergert chose to make an example of himself by the extent of his crimes and his shamelessness in avoiding accountability for them. He may imagine some sort of vindication by the Supreme Court, but Nebraskans know better. Hergert's entire defense is one of technicalities. On principle, he doesn't have a leg to stand on. Even if Hergert can escape being removed from office, he is and shall forever remain an emabarrassment to the voters of Western Nebraska whose trust he so abused.

.........Well, that's most of the major legislative action in the very busy and productive 2006 session. Obviously, I don't support every decision that was made, but - on the whole - I tend to think more good was probably done than ill. That's probably the best that can ever be asked of any legislative body.

Of course, some huge question marks still remain, especially with the fate of Omaha's public schools still hanging in the balance. It could well be years before that one can be called one way or another.

With the state now saying goodbye to more than 40% of the legislature as term limits take effect, the very future of this state could also be hanging in the balance with these November elections. It's more important than ever that progressive voters start paying attention and even go to battle for worthy candidates who will be able to take the place of departing champions of the working class such as Chris Beutler, David Landis, Nancy Thompson, and Matt Connealy.

They served well. They served with honor and distinction. But, there is so much left to do. Now is not the time to let up. Now is the time to fight.


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