The Nebraska Legislature: good government, or monkey business?
February 15th, 2016
A state senator’s newspaper column comparing his colleagues to monkeys, and the angry reaction it provoked, reflect different views on the effectiveness of Nebraska’s unique unicameral legislature. As lawmakers take time off, NET News takes a closer look at the controversy.
Last week, inside the legislative chamber, senators were doing a fair bit of milling around. They’d just finished voting on a bill, and were gearing up for the next issue, when Senator Galen Hadley of Kearney rose to speak.
Hadley asked presiding officer, Lt. Gov. Mike Foley, to bang his gavel and quiet senators down. Then, he spoke his mind. “I am just getting sick and tired of people in this body bashing this body. I’m tired,” he declared.
Hadley then explained he was referring to an op-ed in the Plattsmouth Journal that compared senators to a bunch of monkeys. “How disrespectful can you be of this body, to liken it to a bunch of monkeys?” he asked, indignantly.
The op-ed was written by Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion. In it, Kintner adapted a story about monkeys to describe what he said is senators’ habit of preserving the status quo; maintaining a mentality that that’s “the way it has always been” in the Legislature.
In a later interview with NET News, Kintner was unapologetic. “I was just using an analogy here to say that things don’t change, and that when you come down here there’s expectations to fall in line and join the good old boys club. That’s all I was doing. I don’t see how that was disrespectful,” he maintained.
Hadley, who is speaker of the Legislature, says the nonpartisan, one-house body represents government that works – a place where Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, work together to get things done. He gave the example of the budget passed without amendment last year, after Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts and Appropriations Committee Chairman Heath Mello reached an agreement. “Go around to the other 49 states and see if that happened,” he said.
Hadley said senators do a good job representing the people of Nebraska. And without naming Kintner, he offered a suggestion. “If you don’t like being in this body, if you don’t think we’re doing the right job, resign! Get out! Leave!”
In his interview, Kintner declined, joking “Well, they could only hope. But, no.”
And Kintner suggested the Legislature is not working all that well for what he sees as the interests of his constituents. “The point is that we want change. And I think the people expect us to get something done. And I’ve been down here four years, and we can’t seem to cut any tax rates. That’s a problem,” he declared.
Kintner said he hopes things will change. “I’m hoping the new people down here don’t fall into line. And I hope they go an independent way, and do things for the taxpayers,” he said.
He also suggested he is a target of selective outrage. “I’m a little shocked that we have a double standard down here. We have Sen. Chambers who stands up and calls us a racist institution, calls us white laws, calls us idiots and fools, on a regular basis, and I never see him get called out,” Kintner complained.
Sen. Ernie Chambers did spend the better part of a morning last year listening to and defending himself from criticism, after he compared the police to ISIS.
Chambers said his criticisms of the Legislature are different from Kintner’s. “First of all, what I say is true,” Chambers said, laughing. “But secondly, it’s said on the floor during debate on a specific issue, and the people who are there can counteract anything that I say. I have not written those broadsides in the newspaper attacking the Legislature as an institution.”
Kintner says his priorities are straight, declaring “I serve the taxpayers. I don’t serve this institution.”
Hadley concluded his speech Thursday quoting the end of Kintner’s column. “The last sentence is ‘This is no disrespect to monkeys.’ I’m sorry. It’s a complete disrespect of this body, and I’m tired of it.”
As Hadley finished, many of his colleagues did what almost never happens after a senator speaks – bursting into applause, some standing up.
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