A picture of Senator Mike Johanns
Mike J.
Former Republican NE
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    Nomination of Elizabeth A. Wolford to Be United States District Judge for the District of New York

    by Former Senator Mike Johanns

    Posted on 2013-12-11

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    JOHANNS. Madam President, I appreciate the opportunity to enter into this colloquy with my colleague from Nebraska.



    We have a rather unique experience. For 6 years I was the Governor of Nebraska, and when Senator Fischer was elected to the unicameral, I was actually coming to Washington to be the Secretary of Agriculture, so we did not work together. But we both worked in the same system.

    I would like to get a legislative perspective about how the Nebraska unicameral works. I saw it from the Governor's office, but, of course, I was not on the floor every day. That is not typically what a Governor would do--to go to the floor every day. But Nebraska is a pretty Republican State. I think we all recognize that. We know that. It is a nonpartisan unicameral. So not only is it a one-house system, but the senators do not run as Republicans or Democrats. They run on a nonpartisan ticket.

    I would also say that our voter registration in Nebraska is public record. So, of course, the media, when we would run for office, would always look up how we were registered or they would ask us. I do not remember a time--maybe there was a time, but I do not remember a time-- when Democrats had the majority in the unicameral by their voter registration.

    I would like the Senator from Nebraska to explain how the majority party, Republicans, worked with the minority party in terms of committee assignments, how they would work with the minority party in terms of chairs. Would a member of the minority ever get a chance to be a chair of a committee? How does that work? And I would like the Senator to talk a little bit, if she would, about how this system works on a day-to-day basis in terms of the relationship between the majority and the minority. Maybe it will be instructive today.

    Mrs. FISCHER. Madam President, I am so very fortunate to have Senator Johanns as the senior Senator from Nebraska. He has a wealth of experience as a former Governor, as a former Secretary of Agriculture, and as a U.S. Senator. So he has definitely been a mentor to me. I believe, perhaps, Nebraska can mentor the Senate through the trying times we are facing right now.

    As Senator Johanns said, we are nonpartisan. We do not caucus. We do not have majority or minority leaders because we are nonpartisan. So we do not have that leadership structure in our State that we have here in the Senate.

    In the State of Nebraska, if you want to be part of leadership, you stand on the first day of a legislative session, and you have to nominate yourself and run for that position. So you would nominate yourself for speaker and then we do a secret ballot. It is 25 votes, and you would be speaker because there are [[Page S8713]] only 49 of us. Then we go through the committees, and we have 14 standing committees. So as chair of the transportation and telecommunications committee, I had to stand on the floor of the legislature and nominate myself, which is hard to do, but you nominate yourself, and then your colleagues, your peers, decide who the chairman will be.

    We had Republicans and Democrats who were committee chairs. In fact, this past year in the legislature, even though officially there is a majority of Republicans, many of our chairmen--in fact, I think it was the majority--were Democrats because you are rewarded for the hard work you do, for your integrity, for your honesty, for being willing to listen to all sides and work with everyone to reach consensus.

    So it is a unique system, it works for our State, and it is that ability to work with each other to try and build those coalitions so you can get your 25 votes on an issue, on a bill that you have, that makes us so very special with regard to other States and also with regard to the U.S. Senate, because we do work together.

    The coalitions change. The coalitions change depending on the issue. You can find allies all across the spectrum--from more liberal members to more conservative members. If you have a good idea that is going to benefit the people of the State, your peers are willing to come forward and work with you.

    I know Senator Johanns as Governor had to draw up budgets and send those budgets, then, to the legislature and have our appropriations committee go through that process dealing with his agency heads. Then the appropriations committee would bring that package to the floor. Here again, we would debate it. I do not know if the legislature always agreed with Senator Johanns during his time as Governor, but perhaps he could give us some insight into how we came together on budgets and were able to work through that as well.

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