Two years after Donald Trump won the 2016 president election, four Nebraska women joined to form a progressive political group in the state dedicated to holding lawmakers like those in the Nebraska Legislature accountable.
“Something physically in my body had changed, and I was compelled that I was never going to feel that way again,” co-founder Christi Bradley said of the 2016 election. “I was never going to feel like I hadn’t done enough to prevent something terrible from happening.”
The Nebraska Legislative Study Group, formed in November 2018 by Angie Philips, Cindy Maxwell-Ostdiek, Bradley and Brooklynne Rosado, has grown with members that regularly watch and testify in legislative hearings. The group also is among the only entities that creates and stores recordings of legislative floor debates and hearings.
While advocating for progressive values, which does indicate a “left” tilt on some issues, members say that’s not the whole story.
“We don’t see progressive as a partisan thing, we see it as an idea,” Philips said. “We are progressive, we want to move forward. We want to move our state forward. We want to move working families forward.”
‘Compelled’ to act
Nebraska is the only state in the nation with only one chamber of lawmakers, with 49 elected officials.
Philips, who ran in the 2020 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, said people need to be even more involved as a result. For the study group, that means ensuring people have a voice and encouraging people to work together, track legislation and participate as the “second house.”
“That’s our primary goal is to get people to understand their right and responsibility to participate as the second house, and people really want to,” Philips said.
Maxwell-Ostdiek, who is a registered nonpartisan and ran for the Legislature in 2022, said transcripts from the Legislature can take weeks or months to complete, sometimes not until after the legislative session ends.
Legislative sessions typically run from January to about June in odd-numbered years and from January to April in even-numbered years, respectively 90 and 60 days.
For constituents, this can mean missing out on key information or testimony, Maxwell-Ostdiek said, especially on “really controversial” or more detailed subject matter.
“I think it’s important for everyday Nebraskans so that we can research and see what our senator is saying, what our neighbors are concerned about,” Maxwell-Ostdiek explained. “And I think it’s important for the senators as well so that they can inform themselves about what the expert testimony is, maybe what their constituency is saying, and take those things into consideration.”
State Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon is trying once again for the Legislature and Nebraska Public Media to store those recordings. NPM already livestreams the Legislature, which the study group relies on for its work, but it is not mandated to collect and store those recordings.
Maxwell-Ostdiek along with her husband, friends and other members of the group help with the process, which Maxwell-Ostdiek said can get complex when there are multiple hearings going on at once.
The group can livestream one hearing at a time on its YouTube and Facebook, but the others must be tracked simultaneously with the NPM stream (which must be manually reset if there are any technical difficulties).
That one hearing is decided sometimes as a consensus whereas others will be ones the members are interested in more generally.
As of Wednesday, Feb. 22, the study group has received nearly 21,000 views across its YouTube recordings.
‘Action based off of passion’
Morgan Ryan, one of the group’s youngest members, said she’s been a member for a few years and notes the group is great for organizing and helping keep people informed on issues.
Ryan, a freshman at Drake University who is originally from Omaha, said youth bring a different perspective on issues and the group gives encouragement for all to get involved, including at meetings outside the Legislature.
“It’s amazing how much work they put into recording things and how ridiculous it is that we don’t have that already, that it has to fall to private citizens, to well-doers just to do this work,” Ryan said.
According to Philips, the heart of the group is lifting each others’ voices up on a volunteer-led, grassroots basis.
“It’s all action based off of passion,” Philips said.