The last day of the Lege was like the last day at the Alamo. The tiny band of defenders was out-manned and out-gunned and they knew it. They had just lost a days-long and valiantly fought Congressional redistricting battle. Every time they had brought forth a compromise amendment, the elephants in the room voted it down, then threw up their trunks and trumpeted, “We have the votes. We don’t need to negotiate.”
The resulting Congressional redistricting map looks a lot like Pac-Man gobbling up and painting red, literally and figuratively, what was heretofore the tiny blue dot of Douglas and Sarpy Counties. Absent a court challenge, Nebraskans will be stuck with this giant gerrymander for the next ten years.
Passing the redistricting bill was a mere formality because, as the elephants continued to remind everybody, they had the votes. The defenders of the Alamo were out of bullets and out of time. Santa Anna was pounding on the door with a stick of dynamite in one hand and a lighted cigar in the other.
But they could fire one last volley with what little ammunition they had, to send a message to the enemy, and the message was this:
They knew they couldn’t stop the redistricting bill from becoming law. It only takes 25 votes to pass a bill, and there are 34 elephants in the Lege. But it takes 33 votes to pass a bill with an “emergency clause” attached that allows the bill to go into effect immediately. If the Alamo defenders could just win over a couple of elephants, they could at least force a hold on the bill for 90 days.
There were plenty of elephants who were red with embarrassment over the blatant partisan redistricting process of the “nonpartisan” Lege. But embarrassment isn’t enough to budge an elephant. What really got some tusks twisted was the fact that their own personal political districts were chopped up like hamburger, too.
Shaft the blue guys; business as usual. Shaft an elephant; stampede, baby.
So the votes were counted to pass the bill with an emergency clause attached, and it went like this: 31 yes; 15 no.
Two votes short.
There was a giant pregnant pause in the chamber. Nobody had foreseen this little hiccup, and Lege President Rick Sheehy looked a little befuddled, like he didn’t know what to do next.
What he did next, after regaining his composure, was ask for a vote to pass the bill without the emergency clause, and there were plenty of elephant votes to get that task done. But the shockwave of unscripted and unexpected defiance was still bouncing around the Lege.
It was a tiny victory for the defenders. It felt good. And it was very, very brief.
After lunch; after Speaker Flood trunk-twisted the ears of the errant elephants; after he rebuked the entire Lege for messing up his tidy day, saying, “On the last day I like soft landings, and we’re violating that principle today;” after a series of procedural backpedalling votes to retrieve the bill from the Guv, reconsider the first vote, vote again, and vote by gosh this time trunk-to-tail like all trained elephants do; the redistricting bill passed with the emergency clause attached, on a vote of 35 to 11.
And so, the Alamo fell.