Norris still offers solutions for 21st century problems

Thursday, July 26, 2012

It says something about McCook, Nebraska's, most famous son that his name is still being invoked nearly 70 years after his death.

Sen. George W. Norris was one of only six senators to vote against America's entry into World War I, and while he successfully sponsored the "Lame Duck" amendment, he was unable to abolish the electoral college but was successful in establishing the Tennessee Valley Authority, supporting many of FDR's New Deal programs and influenced his home state's adoption of the unicameral form of government and public power.

Norris was a thorn in the side of his Republican colleagues, and did his best to disrupt what he saw as an abusive power structure -- they called him "one of the sons of the wild jackass" -- before he become an Independent and before finally being defeated for re-election in 1942.

It's probably no coincidence that someone seeking Ben Nelson's seat in the U.S. Senate would try to enlist the founder of McCook's political dynasty into the fight.

Former senator and governor Bob Kerrey has an uphill battle in his bid to return to the Senate, but plans to take on an even tougher challenge by promising to propose an amendment to Article One of the U.S. Constitution, to be named after George W. Norris.

While it would not seek to eliminate the Conference Committee, one of Norris' goals, it would abolish the party caucuses, another of Norris' ideas.

Kerrey outlined his ideas in an article in The Atlantic, quoted below:

* Eliminate the partisan caucuses and the four partisan campaign committees that make compromise between the political parties nearly impossible.

* Prohibit the organization of Congress by political parties and establish a mechanism to reduce the number of committees, improve the quality of executive branch oversight and increase the quality of congressional budgeting.

* Establish a reasonable limitation on consecutive years of service. "Twelve years seems reasonable to me, though I could also make the case for 18 years," Kerrey wrote.

* Allow Congress to ban the unlimited independent expenditures by corporations and unions permitted by the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision, and impose limitations on campaign spending that have not been allowed since the Buckley v. Valeo decision of 1976.

* Change the rules of the Senate and House to limit the use of the filibuster, open up the budget process, require that amendments to legislation actually relate to the subject of the bill, and increase transparency so citizens may see how their money is spent.

A constitutional amendment is the Mount Everest of legislative achievements, and 70 years of congressional inertia isn't going to make the job of passing one any easier.

But McCook should be proud that its most famous senior statesman was the source of ideas that may still offer much needed solutions in the 21st century.

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