Paul Jacob

Nebraska State Senator DiAnna Schimek’s 20-year legislative career is nearly over. She feels victimized, no doubt, by the voter-enacted term limits that make this her final year in power. Still, Senator Schimek hopes to go out with her boots on, firing one final shotgun blast to maim or kill the initiative process she has long abhorred.

You see, it was only through the voter initiative that Nebraskans passed term limits . . . three times.

Yup. It took three petition drives and three votes of the people.

Of course, term limits passed overwhelmingly each time. But a charmed third initiative was required because Nebraska’s supreme court struck down the first two citizen-sponsored measures. Those votes were tossed out (if we wish to be overly kind) because of legal technicalities or (if we wish to be more honest) because of outrageous and tyrannical court rulings.

Though term limits enjoyed sustained and overwhelming public support throughout the battle, the nation’s only unicameral never seriously entertained passing such a measure. After all, what do the voters know?

And without the initiative process, legislators-know-best would have been the rule. That’s reason enough for legislators to despise the initiative, certainly, but there are a plethora of other reasons. The fact that a cap on state spending growth made the ballot in 2006 is one more.

In fact, every initiative breaks the law-making monopoly of legislators. And every initiative is likely to be something legislators oppose, or citizens wouldn’t have to go through all the work of petitioning to place such an issue before their fellow citizens. Most significant reforms have to be enacted over the objections of those who are supposed to be representing us, but are so often representing themselves.

Schimek and her fellow know-it-all nabobs realize they can’t stop term limits at the ballot box. This reality was proven yet again in recent months by voters in California and Maine, defeating attempts by politicians to weaken their respective term limits laws. So, the politicians’ best hope appears to be to wreck the path by which such popular reforms can be instituted over their objection: the voter initiative.

That’s why Legislative Bill 39 passed by a lopsided margin of two to one. Intriguingly, more than 90 percent of those termed-out this year supported Schimek’s parting shot.


Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.