Partisanship, Sexism, Death Penalty, Abortion Roil Legislative Family

April 26, 2019, 6 p.m. ·

Sen. Carol Blood speaks in the Legislature Friday (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

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Feelings about the death penalty, partisanship and the treatment of women overshadowed debate in the Legislature Friday.

The drama Friday started when Sen. Carol Blood rose to speak about what happened after a legislative vote on abolishing the death penalty Thursday. Even though she was in the Capitol Thursday, Blood was excused from floor and didn’t vote on the bill. Later, a Nebraska Republican Party spokesman issued a statement saying Blood and two other registered Democrats in the officially nonpartisan Legislature “couldn’t muster the courage” to vote, as their constituents had done in a 2016 referendum, to retain Nebraska’s death penalty.

Blood said she doesn’t base her votes on partisanship. “I vote for things, and against things, that I don’t necessarily agree with as an individual. But District Three is not the voice of Carol Blood. It’s the voice of thousands of people, be they Republican or Democrat or independent or whatever. We are not here for a party, and if you are, you’re here for the wrong reasons,” she said.

Blood and the two other Democrats excused for the vote-- Sens. Dan Quick and Lynn Walz -- all said they personally oppose the death penalty, but didn’t vote out of respect for the will of their constituents.

So did three Republicans who were present but not voting: Sens. Brett Lindstrom, Mark Kolterman and Robert Hilkemann. Staff for a fourth Republican who did not vote, death penalty supporter Sen. Tom Brewer, said he was absent because he was speaking at a National Rifle Association convention in Indianapolis.

Moving beyond partisanship, Blood went on to say it’s difficult to be a woman in the Legislature, saying radio ‘shock jocks’ have criticized her appearance.

Sen. Mike Moser, a registered Republican, responded. “Sometimes people say mean things. Sometimes the radio shock jocks as you describe them are trying to misrepresent what’s said. Sometimes the things that we do entertain them even without misrepresentation. But I think we need to do what we need to do what we’re supposed to do and try to let those things just come and go,” he said.

Blood said she wasn’t complaining about being picked on personally. “But with all due respect Sen. Moser, when people pick on you, I don’t think they’re talking about the size of your breasts,” she said.

Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh supported Blood, alluding to male senators talking over their female colleagues or criticizing them for being emotional. “If we get emotional, or we’re not emotional at all, that’s our prerogative. Our constituents voted for us just like they voted for you. And it would be great if everyone could treat the women with the respect that we have earned,” she said.

The debate came a day after emotional debate on the death penalty, which Cavanaugh linked to the abortion issue, saying she used to think people who called themselves pro-life would oppose the death penalty, until she learned otherwise. “People were saying they were pro-life, when in fact they were anti-abortion. I don’t have respect for people like that. I don’t have respect for people in this body that say that they are pro-life and support the death penalty,” she said.

Death penalty supporters, like Sen. Suzanne Geist, took exception to that. “I am pro-life. I am pro-innocent life….But I have also come to an understanding for me that there is a tipping point that you can commit such an egregious act against another human being that it requires your life,” she said.

And Sen. Steve Steve Halloran, another death penalty supporter and abortion opponent, challenged Cavanaugh with a question. “The last figures I have, in 2017, 1,958 abortions were conducted in this state. What were those babies, those unborn babies, guilty of?” he asked.

“I don’t have an answer for you,” Cavanaugh said.

“Because there is no answer. They were guilty of nothing. They were innocent lives,” Halloran said.

Cavanaugh, who describes herself as pro-reproductive rights, replied that while she couldn’t apologize for saying what she believes, she respects that people can say they’re pro-life and pro-death penalty, and perhaps shouldn’t have been so open about her feelings.

But she said she’s disappointed in other senators’ inaction on SNAP benefits, child care subsidies, prenatal care and substandard housing. “I don’t understand your morality. And it hurts my heart. So you can ask me pithy questions on the mic to try and get me on the record, I don’t care. I care about representing the people of Nebraska. I care about representing life in Nebraska. And if you think you’re going to hurt me or my political future by asking me questions, then have at it,” she said.

As the week came to a close, Sen. Sara Howard tried to keep it all in the family of the Legislature, which is separated by a glass wall from people on the outside. “We are a weird family with a lot of crazy uncles and interesting cousins that maybe you don’t spend a lot of time with but you meet up on holidays when you come to their committee. And so, if you treat us like we are a family, which I believe that we are, then nobody outside of this glass gets to talk smack about my family,” she said.