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Nebraska Politics

When dissent is criminal – NE LB 1129

There are many elements of fascism that have slowly arisen in the U.S. since 9/11: ultra-nationalism, authoritarian ideology, toxic masculinity, gun/war worship, and the squashing any dissent.  In this sense, Trump isn’t new, and booting Trump out of office won’t actually solve much.  Take Nebraska as an example.  Pete Ricketts has all the hallmarks of a fascist already described, and he has a whole cadre of Ricketts bought and paid for lackeys in the legislature.

This session they are truly making a name for themselves with 1) a draconian update to an already fascist law on americanism, 2) a free speech law designed to silence faculty and students and to give free rein to nazis, and 3) LB 1129 to “Prohibit state employees from certain political activities.”

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Like many of these bills on the face of it, LB 1129 seems reasonable.  It upholds something most reasonable people agree with: state dollars should not be used to support partisan politics.  Seeing Red talked to a number of state employees about LB 1129 and they were underwhelmed upon first glance.  State employees already know, per HR policy, that they could be reprimanded or lose their state employment if they use state resources or attempt to officially speak for or represent the state on political matters.

So what is there to disagree with?

First, this bill goes far beyond the current HR (pg. 19) and Board of Regent policies governing the political activity of state employees in Nebraska and NU faculty.  While these policies clearly recognize that it would be a violation of employee’s civil rights to limit their political activity, they do carve out some key boundaries to ensure that state employees can fully participate in our democracy as citizens AND to ensure that state resources are used in non-partisan ways.  Those key provisions, which every state employee knows, have to do with state time, state dollars, and using state resources.

Currently state employees are beholden to their employers like any other job.  If they violate these policies, they could be fired. So what does LB1129 do?  It criminalizes this behavior.  You are not just at risk of losing your employment, you could be held criminally liable for a class I misdemeanor.

For political activity.

In a democracy.

Tastes like fascism?

In addition to duplicating what is already clear HR policy and then adding/criminalizing political activity, LB 1129 also blurs and extends the lines of what political activity state employees can and cannot engage in.

First: LB 1129 does not stipulate that these restrictions are limited to only state time like state HR policy does.

In the very first section:

49-1401 Sections 49-1401 to 49-14,142 and section 2 of this act 4 shall be known and may be cited as the Nebraska Political accountability and Disclosure Act.56 Sec. 2.

(1) No state employee shall hold office in a political club or party.

There is no mention of state time here, or state resources.  Simple membership in a political “club” or party AND you happen to be a state employee?   The Attorney General’s office now has the authority to investigate you and charge you with a class I misdemeanor.

What is a political club?  You tell us.  Is it Planned Parenthood?  Is it Nebraskans Against Gun Violence?  Is it the American Association of University Professors?  This isn’t clear.  But we at Seeing Red have a sinking feeling the “clubs” Keuhn (the bill sponsor) and Ricketts (the bill champion) would like to criminalize are not right leaning.  Based off of the historic attacks on the University of Nebraska we think this bill can be tied directly to silencing the political voices of Nebraska faculty in particular.  Keuhn may deny this, but the connections seem a little too timely to ignore.

Second: LB1129 adds several provisions not currently delineated in state HR policies:

(2) No state employee shall, while on state time, in his or her official capacity, or using government resources of any kind:
(a) Campaign for or against a candidate;
(b) Make a campaign speech;
(c) Collect campaign contributions;
(d) Sell tickets to a political fundraising function;
(e) Develop or distribute campaign materials or communications;
(f) Organize or manage a political rally or meeting;
(g) Circulate petitions for a candidate or a ballot initiative;
(h) Work to register voters for one party only;
(i) Use any digital medium to communicate about party politics, a candidate for office, or a ballot initiative unless required in the
performance of his or her official duties; or
(j) Wear political buttons*

Wait.  What?  What do we consider government resources of any kind?  Wifi? Sure.  Why not wifi?

And “digital medium”?  Phone?  Computer?  You don’t even need a University phone to violate this.  If you are connected to wifi on your own phone at the Lied center while waiting for a conference, blogging about LB1129, and how horrible it is for a democracy, could suddenly result in you being fired, investigated, and charged with a crime.

*Also don’t forget to take off your political buttons on campus.

In a fascist dictatorship, political activity that is not in lockstep support of the ruling party is criminal.  Depending on how unpopular your political views or policy stances are with the ruling party, your political activity is now suspect in Nebraska.  In 2018.  For state employees, this is the purpose of LB1129: to limit dissenting voices and to criminalize political engagement of approximately 120,000 Nebraskans who work for state government.  This is not 1930’s Germany.  This is Nebraska, right here, right now.  And it is not Trump.  This is Ricketts.