Nebraska Legislature

LINCOLN–In 2001, the Nebraska Legislature enacted a state law requiring candidates for governor, when choosing their running mate for lieutenant governor, to choose a candidate of the same political party.

Twenty years later, Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue is challenging the constitutionality of the law, Section 32-619.01, by arguing that the provisional language “of the same party” in the law contradicts the state constitution

Blood asserts that constitutional language states that candidates for governor have the right to choose their running mate regardless of party affiliation. She is seeking an attorney general’s opinion on the constitutionality of the law to potentially change the state statute.

“The best candidates for governor and lieutenant governor might be a Republican and a Democrat or a Libertarian and a Republican,” Blood said. “We’re electing them to do jobs. It may not necessarily be two people from the same party that are the best qualified to do the job in any election cycle.”

In 1999, the Legislature passed LR14CA, a post-constitutional amendment to attempt to place on the 2000 ballot a change to how Nebraska voters elected the state’s lieutenant governor. Prior to the amendment, voters chose a governor’s running mate in a primary election.

When the amendment made it on the ballot, the language said each candidate for governor would select a person to be the candidate for lieutenant governor on the general election ballot. On Nov. 7, 2000, the ballot initiative won by a mere 51.82% of the votes.

The ballot initiative then went back to the Legislature to be put into statute. In April of 2001, the initiative was presented as LB768. It was at this time that the political party requirement was added.

Though the ballot initiative had made no mention regarding candidates’ political affiliation, Section 2 of LB768 specifically established “of the same party” as a requirement for the candidate for Lieutenant Governor.

Blood argues LB768 failed to follow the language of Nebraska’s Constitution in Article IV, Section 1 where there is no mention of a requirement regarding the political party of the candidates.

“If you read the constitutional requirements, it shows that as long as you meet the minimum qualifications, a candidate for governor can choose their own running mate without regard for party,” Blood said. “So we’re asking whether Section 32-619.01 is constitutional when you compare it to the simple, very clear authority for the governor to select their running mate as provided in Article IV, Section 1.”

In broaching this issue, Blood said she is on a mission to bring Nebraska back to the way it was when she was growing up in the state. She said she is dedicated to restoring the tradition of nonpartisanship established in the state’s unicameral legislature.

During the challenge, Blood consulted the ACLU of Nebraska regarding the issue of constitutionality. Additionally, the ACLU has weighed in on the state’s nonpartisanship tradition as it pertains to Blood’s challenge.

“As a lifelong Nebraskan and as working at the ACLU of Nebraska, I really do see an authentic appreciation for the fact that Nebraska has this strong nonpartisan tradition, and you see that in our state government unicameral,” said Sam Petto, Communications Director for the ACLU of Nebraska.

The ACLU recently distributed a poll pertaining to the upcoming redistricting in Nebraska to see what members of the public knew about redistricting and what values they wanted to see come out of the process. According to Petto, across all political parties, the response was overwhelmingly in favor of state senators taking a nonpartisan approach.

“That strong consensus just really speaks to that nonpartisan culture in Nebraska and the fact that we want our politicians to just focus on doing the best to represent the people,” Petto said. “Not to play political games, not to try to draw lines to benefit themselves or their party, to just focus on the work ahead of them.”

A special session will be held in the Legislature later this year to accommodate redistricting, and Petto said the pressure will be on state senators to listen to their constituents about nonpartisan issues. 

For Blood, challenging the constitutionality of a law that encourages partisanship in gubernatorial elections is just one way to put the state government back in the hands of voters instead of in the hands of parties and special interest groups.

“It’s time to go back to the Nebraska I knew growing up, and I loved,” Blood said. “Let’s make it about the people again and stop making it about the party.”

“I know this isn’t going to be popular with a lot of partisan people, but I don’t care,” she said. “I’m not doing it for the Democratic Party or the Republican Party or whoever. I’m doing it for Nebraskans. Let’s give them as many choices as we can.”

Blood is currently waiting on a response from the Attorney General’s office. If the response is in agreement with Blood’s challenge, the next step will be for her to introduce a bill in 2022 that will change state statute.