Do you consider yourself a Democrat?
Or are you a Republican?
Are you an Independent, or a member of the Libertarian Party or Natural Law Parties? Do you care?
Helen Bolton realized that her family’s identity as Democrats meant that they would be a little lonely. “If you want to meet a Democrat,” someone told her, “you’ll have to down into an alley and shake hands with yourself.”
In fact, from the 30s down to today, more Nebraskans register as Republicans than they do as Democrats.
But, political identification may not mean as much in Nebraska as it does in other states. Nebraskans have always displayed an independent streak. In 1932, Republicans crossed party lines in large numbers to vote for Democrat Franklin Roosevelt. Nebraska Sen. George Norris began his political career as a Republican, got upset with party politics in Washington, D.C., registered as an independent and continued to get elected for years to come.
Nebraska is the only state in the U.S. that has a single-house legislature. The Unicameral was established in 1934 in large part because Norris spent his own money to crisscross the state in 1934 explaining how the one-house system would save money on the cost of governing. Voters agreed and adopted the constitutional amendment by an almost 60 percent margin.
But perhaps the most important part of the amendment was not the one-house legislature, but the fact that the Unicameral is non-partisan. State senators do not have a party affiliation printed next to their name on the ballot, and it’s very difficult for the political parties to control their members while they are in the legislature. Political coalitions form and reform depending on the issue and where individual senators stand on that issue. Two senators may find themselves enemies on one issue and collaborators on another.
How individuals decide which party to align with is not just a matter of upbringing. It has more to do with that person’s beliefs and values and how they perceive the beliefs and values of the various political parties. Don McGinley understood the process of political identification at an early age.
In the 30s, most people’s perception of the Democratic Party changed somewhat. FDR was seen as a friend of the farmer, and so people who had voted Republican all their lives found themselves voting for a Democrat.
Written by Bill Ganzel of the Ganzel Group. First written and published in 2003.