My love affair with the Nebraska Unicameral:
The Nebraska Unicameral and I have had a decades long affair, filled with laughter, bickering, and more vending machine lunches than I care to admit. As the Legislature and I celebrate our 10th Valentine’s Day together, I want to share my favorite gifts and lessons it has given me over the years.
2007 – Clad in a black vest and white button up, I promptly fell down the stairs carrying coffee to Senator Danielle Conrad (then Nantkes). I wish I could say my time as a page taught me how to walk in heels, but alas, that skill still eludes me. No, being a legislative page taught me collegiality. I would watch senators engage in heated debate one morning and laugh together the next, learning where there is mutual respect there will always be a path forward.
2009 – I paused at the south doors, newly minted poli sci grad, about to step into the adult world on my first day of work… where I had to office, no computer, and no phone for 3 days. Homeless, my coworker and I were taken in by my Sen. John Nelson’s staff. It didn’t matter that our senator (and we) were members of the opposite political party, we were legislative staff and legislative staff help each other. On the campaign trail it is so easy to dismiss the opposition, but working alongside them you learn to respect the individual and their ideology – even if you disagree.
2015 – Standing on the other side of the glass was a hard adjustment, but I understood, the Legislature needed its space, some distance from me. I had been demanding as a grassroots organizer, flooding senators’ offices with emails and calls about specific bills. But as a lobbyist, collaboration is key. The best bills incorporate feedback from all stake-holders, seek compromise among parties, and address opposition well before the hearing. This requires a fair amount of humility, patience, and understanding that you cannot always hold the high ground. A lesson that every staff, senator, and lobbyist must learn to ensure the balance and integrity of our Legislature.
Our Unicameral is a wonderfully unique place filled with dedicated public servants that I have had the privilege to work with these past ten years. There is such a spirit of tradition and honor of the institution, one that I have carried with me since my days as a legislative page. I have shared my love of this institution with fellow UNL students, advocacy interns, law clerks, friends, and policy organizations across the country (usually amazed that legislatures can function without whip counts and party caucuses).
Since this session convened on January 4th, things have felt different between us, like my Legislature is slipping away from me. Perhaps today as the temporary rules expire, a compromise will be made and the civility, tradition, and respect I associate with Nebraska Legislature will be restored, just in time for a belated Valentine’s Day present.