Rural Senators, Democrats Gain Power in Nebraska Legislature
By Steve White, Grand Island Bureau Chief - bio | email
Republicans may dominate Cornhusker politics, but Democrats outnumber Republicans as legislative leaders. The nation's only non–partisan legislature lives up to its reputation by electing leaders regardless of party.
There's also a geographic split with a strong showing from central Nebraska lawmakers.
"I feel like I'm shaking in my boots," Sen. Kate Sullivan said after being named Education Chair.
From education to transportation, lawmakers from York to Ogallala will take the lead on some of the most pressing issues.
Sen. Annette Dubas was named head of Transportation and Telecommunications. She said, "Not a day goes by every citizen in our state doesn't touch a road."
Despite the state's population base in the east, central and western Nebraska are well represented.
Sen. Mike Gloor of Grand Island said, "It speaks well of the faith the body has in outstate senators, but above and beyond we all work together."
The man who once sued God was nowhere to be found as the session opened in prayer.
As he's known to do, Sen. Ernie Chambers arrived fashionably late in his T–shirt and jeans.
For further proof Nebraska lawmakers have an independent streak, the GOP-dominated body voted more Democrats than Republicans as committee chairs.
That comes after the head of the state Republican Party urged senators to vote along party lines.
Officially, there are no party labels in the nation's only unicameral.
Dubas said, "Of course you can't ever say we're 100 percent non–partisan at all times but I think when members of this body are looking for leaders that's what they're looking for, people they can put trust in, has nothing to do with party affiliation."
Term limits continue to be felt, as senators like Galen Hadley of Kearney quickly move up the ranks.
He said, "In days past, I wouldn't even be on the revenue committee and to chair it in my second term is truly amazing."
Other central Nebraskans will play important roles. Months after suffering a stroke, Sen. John Wightman of Lexington was chosen to head the powerful executive committee.
And Sen. Greg Adams of York was named Speaker of the Legislature, with unanimous support.
Gloor said of the new leader, "I trust him a lot and very happy he's speaker."
There may be divisions based on party or geography, but senators say their goal is to put that aside.
Sullivan, of Cedar Rapids said, "We're good people to work with. We will look at the big picture. Yes, we're going to support constituents in rural Nebraska, but we're going to do what's best for betterment of the whole state."
Whether you look at leadership roles as Republicans versus Democrats, or rural versus urban, it's an even split.
And senators say that's good for Nebraska.
2013 Legislative Leadership from central / western Nebraska: Sen. Greg Adams (York) - Speaker
Sen. Tom Carlson (Holdrege) - Natural Resources
Sen. John Wightman (Lexington) - Executive Board
Sen. Ken Schilz (Ogallala) - Agriculture
Sen. Mike Gloor (Grand Island) - Banking, Commerce, and Insurance
Sen. Kate Sullivan (Cedar Rapids) - Education
Sen. Galen Hadley (Kearney) - Revenue
Sen. Annette Dubas (Fullerton) - Transportation and Telecommunications