On the same day as the Lie to Women bill LB 209 was passed to its final reading, we once more got to enjoy another open display of in how much, or rather little, regard some of our male senators hold women in general and their female colleagues in particular. It is not enough to spend the day in debate about how doctors should be required to lie to women about the possibility of an abortion reversal that, to date: a) still remains unproven to even work, b) no provider is established to perform in the state of Nebraska, and c) the question of cost and insurance coverage hasn’t been settled, and d) myriad other problems which Senator Hunt brilliantly points out here. No, clearly, for some senators the day required yet another underhanded blow against their junior colleague, Senator Machaela Cavanaugh.
Cavanaugh’s LB 533 changes “terminology related to marriage” — for example replacing “husband” and “wife” with simply “spouse” on marriage certificates — so as to comply with federal requirements following the 2015 Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage. As such, LB 533 was placed on the “consent calendar” in the legislature, which allows non-controversial bills to be moved through to a vote more quickly since little or no debate is to be expected on basic procedural bills such as terminology changes required by federal law. It comes to probably no surprise, however, that even bills that SHOULDN’T be controversial ARE controversial in this legislature, where senators express their homophobia and misogyny on a regular basis.
In a permitted, and generally unremarkable, procedure, it is possible for as few as three senators to remove a bill from the consent calendar by expressing to the Speaker of the Legislature, in written form, that they do consider the bill controversial and requiring debate. It is not only general courtesy, but also expected etiquette among colleagues in the legislature, however, to let the senator sponsoring the bill in question know that other senators are considering such a move because this allows the bill’s sponsor to perhaps make adjustments for the bill to still come to a vote. And even in the absence of general courtesy, the bill’s sponsor is usually informed by the Speaker ahead of time that their bill will be removed from the calendar due to a challenge.
In an attempt to put the new woman senator in her place, however, Senators Steve Erdman, Robert Clements, John Lowe, and Dave Murman orchestrated an underhanded removal of LB 533 from the calendar by submitting their letter to the Clerk minutes before the bill was to come up on the agenda. Senator Cavanaugh, who had dedicated the bill to her uncle, Douglas County Clerk Tom Cavanaugh (deceased in 2015), was caught by surprise at having her bill disappear from the agenda with no advance warning. She was left in tears on the legislative floor as the extent of this display of disrespect and uncollegial cunning visibly washed over her.
Senator Patty Pansing Brooks, who herself is no stranger to Senator Erdman’s dismissive suggestion to put on “big boy pants”, immediately obtained a copy of the letter from the Clerk and named and admonished the offending senators. Pointing to the date of the letter as showing it had been written by Senator Erdman on May 13, ten days prior, Senator Pansing Brooks rebuked the senators for scheming to hold the letter back to the last possible minute.
That Senator Erdman deliberately staged a public demonstration of disrespect against Senator Cavanaugh here is only further evidenced by the fact that Senator Clements apologized immediately on the floor, and Senator Murman, we were informed, apologized later in private. Senator Lowe did not sign onto the letter until sometime later — the extent of his involvement in this scheme is somewhat unclear. As the author of the letter, and the apparent mastermind of this political circus and open misogyny, Senator Erdman has yet to express any regret for his power play on the legislative floor. It is worth noting too that Senator Scheer did end up using his discretion as Speaker to reschedule LB 533 to the calendar today due to the “unique circumstances” surrounding this incident. This seems to emphasize once more how the goal of the entire effort was much less to accomplish anything tangible, and much more Senator Erdman’s by now familiar performance of toxic masculinity. It seems obvious that his claim to “Straight Talk” — as his legislative blog is inaptly named — is to be understood not in terms of honesty, transparency, and straightforwardness, but merely in terms of as coming from a “straight” white old guy desperate to keep women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ folx in their place. As Senator Wendy DeBoer noted in a continued legislative rebuke of Senator Erdman’s behavior today, this was a display of political “gamesmanship.” Yet, as she also added, “This is not a game.” Misogyny is not a game. Homophobia is not a game. Nebraskan women and LGBTQ+ folx are in a sometimes life-and-death struggle for their right to even be considered as independently autonomous adults. We are done playing games, but we’ll accept the challenge.