Re: the OWH’s Story on “The Norris Amendment,” I Gotta Disagree with Bob Kerrey, It’s not the “Non-Partisan” Nature of Nebraska’s Unicameral that Makes it Unique, it’s the One-House Feature which Truth be Told, has Resulted in Radcliffe & Robak Running the State

October 11, 2012


WASHINGTON, D.C. (exclusive) by Ivy Harper
The Omaha World-Herald’s Washington correspondent, Joe Morton, published an interesting article yesterday highlighting Bob Kerrey’s proposal to turn Congress into a non-partisan deliberative body. I’ve re-printed it below.
But first, my Joe Morton story. Doesn’t everybody have one? On May 11, 2010, I won the Democratic nomination for Nebraska’s 1st Congressional District against three candidates, one of whom – Jessica Lynn Turek – told the Lincoln Journal Star (LJS) in their fall Election Guide that her number one priority in Congress would be “to make money smell good.”
The trio of ostensible Dems that I was running against included a man that a young broadcast reporter told me when she went to interview him, he had a couple of porn magazines lying quite visibly on a table near her. She excused herself for a moment, went to a hallway, called her editor, shared that detail, and he told her to get out of the building asap.
Sherman Yates was my third opponent and I happened to meet him the day I filed at Secretary of State John Gale’s office. I was sitting in a sunken ante-room waiting and Mr. Yates began a conversation. He told me he was running for Congress as a Democrat but that when he learned the fee was $1,700 dollars, he’d had to regroup because he didn’t have that kind of money. The Secretary’s office reassured Mr. Yates that he could still file – provided he swore he had no assets – as “a pauper.”
Swear to God. Nebraska still uses that word. Officially. Turns out that Jessica Lynn Turek filed as one too.
I’ll tell you what’s weird: running against two “paupers” and a porn-loving candidate. For starters, I detest the word “pauper.” I mean, come on, Cornhuskers. Can someone please change that language? For the love of Dickens, it conjures bleak houses, poor boys, and unmarked graves.
Well, soon after the February, 2010 filing date, word spread that I was running against two “paupers” and on occasion, people would joke about it. That bothered me. On a number of levels. Mostly because, truth be told, I probably relate more to paupers than princes.
Nonetheless, running against two “paupers” certainly brought the issue of money front and center to my primary race. And okay, I will admit that one could concoct an entire comedy routine out of the absurdity of it all. I mean most people worry about running against candidates with boatloads of money and I’m running against not one, but two “paupers.” For sure, that comes under the Man Bites Dog news umbrella.
So I filed in the middle of February and the 2010 Primary was the middle of May. In that entire three-month period, I never once met my three opponents. None appeared at any of the numerous “Candidate Forums.” Neither Mr. Yates or the porn guy answered the many “Candidate Questionnaires.” Jessica Lynn Turek answered the official LJS questionnaire, and let’s just say that her answers were unorthodox, to put it mildly.
After a while, reporters and broadcasters started calling me asking if I knew how to reach my three opponents. Of course, it’s standard journalism policy to attempt to give all candidates some semblance of equal time but no one in the media could find contact information for any of the three. In fact, I remember Don Walton asking me at the Mill if I had Jessica or Sherman or the other guy’s number so he could call them.
This gets back to Joe Morton pretty soon here. Anyhow, the three months flew by. I won but barely. And on election night, a politico told me that Jessica Lynn Turek had been a “ringer,” a word I’d only recently learned about via an episode of “The Good Wife.” Sounds naive, but I had no idea what a ringer was. Her role was to siphon Czech votes away from me and she succeeded. She’d been set up to win and I was supposed to be humiliated by being beaten by a “pauper.” More on that later.
The Saturday after the Primary was the Nebraska Democratic Morrison-Exon Dinner in Omaha. I was especially excited about that night because it marked the beginning of Rebekah Davis and my “Congressional Caravan” wherein the two of us planned to travel up and down – and around – the 1st & 3rd borders that we shared and campaign with – and for – each other. Since I grew up in Grand Island, I was eager to spend time in Rebekah’s political stomping grounds, and Rebekah’s got a huge fan club in Lincoln. Win-win, we thought.
So, the two of us set out Sunday morning in my trusty Honda CRV. And it was a blast. We began in Surprise, Nebraska, where – honestly – we couldn’t find even one voter to press the flesh with. Not one. But of course, there was a church and the two of us took turns standing in front of the Surprise sign. We laughed a lot.
A few days later, we ended up in Grand Island where – finally – we got some press from the great George Ayoub at the (G.I.) Independent.
Then, the telephone calls started coming from Joe Morton. First, Rebekah. Then me. My first thought was, “This is cool. The Omaha World-Herald has heard about our criss-crossing CD Caravan and wants to learn more about it.”
Ummmmm. That would be no. Nope, Joe Morton had one question and one question only. That he must have asked me ten times.
I’m doing a story on “the assets” of Nebraska’s Congressional delegation and the 2010 candidates and I want to know how much money you have.
I balked. Harper: Can we talk about issues? Joe Morton: How much money do you have?
Harper: Do you realize that Rebekah Davis is a Nebraska treasure at the tender age of 27?
Joe Morton: How much money does she have?
Harper: The two of us are campaigning together from the very tip of the top of the state down to the Kansas border. Do you want to know what subjects Cornhuskers are raising?
Joe Morton: My story is about “assets.” How much money do you have?”
Harper: Would you like to hear how happy Nebraskans are that there are two women running for Congress?
Joe Morton: How much money do you have?
The OWH published their “money” story on Page One. Senator Ben Nelson: assets, a gazillion dollars; ditto for Tom White; Senator Mike Johanns’ portfolio was none too shabby; Rep. Fortenberry, somewhere around a million; same with Rep. Adrian Smith.
Then, there was Rebekah Davis & Ivy Harper’s “assets.” Well, let’s just say the two of us might as well be “paupers” compared to the Big Battalions.
But I will tell you one thing: there isn’t a single politician in the state of Nebraska – in either party – who has more gravitas than Rebekah Davis and anyone who heard her speech at the July Nebraska Democratic Party Convention in Columbus knows what I’m talking about. Rebekah’s the real deal.
But how much money does she have?
Bob Kerrey proposes ‘Nebraska’ model for Congress
By Joseph Morton

WASHINGTON — Bob Kerrey has a prescription for what ails Congress: a nonpartisan model similar to the Nebraska Legislature.

Kerrey says it’s the only effective solution for a body that has become incapable of addressing even routine matters.

Skeptics say you might as well replace the U.S. Capitol dome’s Statue of Freedom with Nebraska’s sower for all the good it would do.

Kerrey, a Democrat, is running for Nebraska’s open Senate seat.

In debates and on the campaign trail, Kerrey has criticized the partisanship in Congress and touted his “Norris Amendment” to the U.S. Constitution.

It’s named for former Sen. George Norris, the father of Nebraska’s nonpartisan, unicameral Legislature.

Kerrey’s proposed amendment would require Congress to organize itself in a nonpartisan fashion, place a 12-year limit on service in Congress and create a basis for limiting spending on elections, both by individual campaigns and outside groups.

Kerrey says he doesn’t think it would be difficult to convince most Americans that Congress is overly partisan and dominated by special-interest money.

Still, there’s no question getting a constitutional amendment passed is a tall order.

Just proposing a constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds majority vote in both the House and the Senate — or a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of state legislatures. A proposed amendment is not ratified until approved by three-fourths of the states.

After the ratification of the first 10 amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, only 17 other amendments have been approved over the past 220 years.

Kerrey’s opponent, Republican State Sen. Deb Fischer, has questioned the feasibility of Kerrey’s proposals.

Even assuming that the amendment were ratified, it’s not clear what the impact would be.

Term limits and campaign finance reform have been much discussed and attempted in different forms, but the idea of a nonpartisan Congress is something new.

Kerrey acknowledged that he hadn’t heard of anyone else pushing that approach.

“(That’s) in some ways understandable, because it’s very much a Nebraska idea,” Kerrey said.

Since Nebraska went to its nonpartisan unicameral system in 1937, no other states have followed suit.

Kerrey’s proposal has a couple of doubters in Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute and Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution.

The pair co-wrote the book “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks,” which characterized today’s Congress as paralyzed by political extremism.

Ornstein said that he agrees with the need to change Senate rules and that he has a lot of sympathy for campaign finance proposals, but he says term limits have produced “dismal” results where they’ve been enacted.

And he said Kerrey has been unsuccessful in trying to convince him of the wisdom of his nonpartisan Congress proposal.

“It’s a great sentiment with some real obstacles to making it work,” Ornstein said. “I don’t think we’re going to be able to make it happen.”

Mann was more blunt in his assessment of the proposal. Asked what chance it has of success, he said: “Zero.”

“It just doesn’t fit anything,” Mann said. “It doesn’t fit our politics. It doesn’t acknowledge the reality that parties play a central role in every democracy in the world.”

Ornstein said one reason he’s skeptical is it’s not clear that Nebraska’s model has removed parties from the equation.

“Everybody knows who the Republicans and the Democrats are,” he said.

Ornstein said eliminating party-based organization could allow lawmakers to engage in obstruction without being held accountable as a party.

“The ability to hold them accountable as a party for obstruction would be much less, so the incentive to do it would be that much greater,” he said.

Ornstein suggested that other approaches could be more successful.

As one example, he has proposed changing the congressional schedule to three consecutive weeks in session, five days a week, with one week back home meeting with constituents. Under the current schedule, many lawmakers jet in for a couple of days in the middle of the week and take off the second that votes are finished. Ornstein said keeping them in Washington would give them more time to socialize with one another.

“If you’re on the soccer field next to a group of people from the other party with their spouses while your kids are playing with or against each other, your willingness to demonize them is going to be considerably less than if you don’t know them,” he said.

Kerrey says research shows that Nebraska has one of the least partisan statehouses in the country.

While he has read Ornstein and Mann’s book, Kerrey doesn’t think their solutions would get the job done. Instead, he stands by his own proposal.

“I’ve never heard any other remedy that I think would even come close to working,” he said.

Kerrey knows something about party organization on Capitol Hill. He was chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee back in the mid-1990s.

His proposal did earn plaudits from Mark McKinnon, co-founder of the group No Labels, which seeks to promote bipartisanship.

“We commend Senator Kerrey for offering an innovative idea designed to reduce the hyper partisanship that is paralyzing our system,” McKinnon said in a statement.

And Ornstein said that even if he doubts the specifics of Kerrey’s plan, he has to give him credit for trying to solve the problem in a bold way.

“Thank God somebody’s thinking outside the box,” he said.

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