Civility in Nebraska’s Effort to Reform Redistricting

Because the national press hasn’t picked it up, you may not have heard the story. But there’s some very interesting civility news going on right now in the state of Nebraska. On Wednesday, Nebraska’s legislature passed a bill that would reform the state’s redistricting process, taking it largely out of the hands of the legislators themselves and empowering an independent commission. Emily Nohr of Omaha.com describes it this way:

The bill would create an independent commission of citizens to redraw the state’s political maps for six elected bodies: U.S. House, the Legislature, Public Service Commission, University of Nebraska Board of Regents, State Board of Education and Nebraska Supreme Court.

No more than five commission members could be from a single political party.

Don Walton of the Lincoln Star-Journal adds that the process would start with the submission of a series of computer-generated maps to the commission, proposing plans that could achieve relative population equity and meet other goals, such as adherence to county boundaries. The commission would then decide on a course of action and submit it to the legislature for final approval. If a plan is rejected, Walton writes, the commission would reconvene to offer an alternative to the Legislature.

Redistricting Reform in Nebraska
Nebraska’s Congressional Districts, as of the 113th Congress (2013-2015).

This comes in response to a particularly acrimonious redistricting fight in 2011 that resulted in personal disputes and some rancor among senators over their legislative district boundaries – boundaries that were, in particular, seen by many Democrats to unduly benefit the Republican Party in metropolitan Omaha’s 2nd Congressional District.

Not every elected official in Nebraska is pleased with the new bill. At an earlier stage in the process, eleven senators abstained from a vote to move the bill forward. And though Governor Pete Ricketts has not publicly commented on the plan, reports indicate that he has privately expressed some degree of opposition.

That said, contentious as it might be, both the legislative process and the plan for reforming redistricting practices in Nebraska indicate some positive news for civility.

Recently, data has increasingly suggested that redistricting conducted through independent commissions has not, as we might suppose, significantly increased competitiveness for congressional seats. But in the six states where independent commissions have been instituted, what it has done is decrease the frequency and intensity of the sort of legislative battle that precipitated Nebaska’s bill.

It hasn’t entirely done away with acrimony. But according to Peter Miller and Bernard Grofman in the U. C. Irvine Law Review [PDF], states with commissions tend to deliver district maps on time, and largely without legal contestation. And though the process remains marked with controversy, the resulting maps tend not to be altered or overturned during the decade in which they are instituted.

Moreover, the specific process by which Nebraska came to their new plan has been intentionally inclusive on a number of levels. As Don Walton writes, the bill is the product of years of cooperative work and negotiation by Sens. John Murante of Gretna and Heath Mello of Omaha – a Democrat and a Republican respectively. The nine-member independent commission in charge of the redistricting itself can have no more than five members – the barest of majorities – from any one party. And according to an earlier article about the plan, the members of the commission are chosen in equal measure by the state’s three legislative caucuses, which each represent one of the state’s main geographic areas.

Several senators, according to Walton, have raised concerns about possible urban domination of the commission in what is otherwise a highly rural state. Six of the nine commissioners would come from the vicinity of Omaha and Lincoln, the state’s two largest cities.

But no plan could be perfectly representative. And this one bars lobbyists, elected officials, party officials, and their relatives from serving on the commissions, potentially decreases the possibility of other kinds of conflicts of interest.

We here at the Institute do not endorse plans to do redistricting by independent commission – or by any other particular means. We are not a policy organization, and moreover we believe that the method by which states manage electoral districts must be highly specific to their individual circumstances – that each state must decide for itself.

But we are highly encouraged by any legislative move that puts fairness and the needs of voters ahead of the interests of partisanship and legislators’ job security. We are highly encouraged by evidence-based legislation that seems designed to curb acrimony in debates among lawmakers. Our interest is piqued by the bipartisanship that Nebraska legislators have shown here. And should Governor Ricketts sign it into law, we will be watching closely to see how this experiment in redistricting reform turns out.

Civility Linkblogging: The Classroom, The Senate, and India

Civility Linkblogging
A Lynx, because Linkblogging

This post is part of an ongoing series that highlights discourse about civility from around the Web. We glean the links in this segment from as broad a cross-section as we can manage of blogs, newspapers, magazines, and other online venues, from the United States and around the world.

This week’s items are eclectic, but threaded through them is an important theme: the value of listening, and the importance of thoughtfulness, in making decisions for groups of people with heterogenious points of view. Stacie Schultz at Edification in Progress reminds us — rightly — that people from the other end of the ideological spectrum aren’t out to ruin the world. Ann McFeatters tells us that we are colleagues, not enemies. Namita Bhandare of The Hindustan Times tells us that without tolerance we can’t have civility, and absent civility, we have nothing left but acrimony and blame.

As always, if you have an article that you think would be right for future civility linkblogging posts, please do not hesitate to email it to us at editor@instituteforcivility.org. Include the title, url, and a short summary, and we will gladly review it for publication.

Now — the list:

Voters Must Demand Civility, Thoughtfulness from Candidates.
Posted by Ann McFeatters at The Naples News, November 5, 2015

Clinton shouldn’t say, even jokingly, that Republicans are her “enemy.” Carson shouldn’t compare Obamacare to Nazism. Voters must not give credence to Donald Trump’s insistence he should be president because he’s the loudest, rudest and richest. Marco Rubio can’t assume his youth, heritage and dismissive attitude toward his onetime mentor mean he deserves the presidency.

Voters must demand civility and thoughtfulness. They must insist on serious policy proposals and in-depth knowledge about our problems. An Iowa man recently said, “I’m for Ben Carson because he doesn’t yell.” Really, that is not the gold standard for choosing the most powerful leader in the world.

The Road to Tolerance Begins with Civility.
Posted by Namita Bhandare at The Hindustan Times, November 6, 2015

It falls upon the party in power to restore some normalcy. Playing the victim, blaming the media and seeing plots against it won’t cut it.

The journey to tolerance begins with an ability to listen to another point of view. And sometimes it takes a trip to the hills, away from raucous, argumentative Delhi, to realise that what is at stake is something very fundamental to society: Civility. If only we’d stop shouting and start listening.

A Renewed Call for Senate Civility.
Posted by Ed Feulner at The Washington Times, November 9, 2015

Hearing that it was his first speech might lead you to assume that Mr. Sasse was simply grandstanding — playing the part of a brash newcomer with big ambitions. Wrong. Mr. Sasse was in office for more than a year before he made his speech. Listening. Talking to other senators in private. Trying to diagnose the problem with some precision.

In doing do, Mr. Sasse was doing something that many lawmakers fail to do. He wasn’t just talking the talk, as they say. He was walking the walk. For it is his contention that much of the problem with the Senate today can be traced to a failure to listen. To consider all points of view. To carefully and thoughtfully weigh all options before speaking up.

Civility: Actions Without Humility Do Harm.
Posted by Orlaine I. Gabert at The Greenbay Press Gazette, November 10, 2015

Treating another human being as being unworthy is, of itself, a violent act. Now that individual has violence in his heart and in some way must let it out. Some of the results in our country have been slavery rebellions, civil war, strikes, murder, and mass shootings.

Not having any reason or understanding of being humble gives one license to act without kindness, courtesy, or respect.

Controversy With Civility.
Posted by Stacie Schultz at Edification in Progress, November 15, 2015

Take a moment and consider your political leanings that inform how you believe the world could be a better place. Do you have them fully-pictured in your head? Perfect. Now, think about people who disagree with your notions. Perhaps they espouse a different party’s views, or oppose one of your staunchly held positions. You’re probably feeling annoyed even at the mere thought of their ideas. But, take another moment and consider this: do you believe that they are out to ruin the world? That making the world worse is their inherent goal?

When I do this exercise with college students, to teach about the meaning of “controversy with civility”, nearly all of them take pause at the final questions. They chuckle, shake their heads, and murmur, “no, probably not.” We then discuss how remembering that most of society is working to better the world, just with different approaches, can help us tolerate and work with those we disagree with.