Flag Day. What’s that all about? There’s a nice little history of the day that can be found here. The dates have shifted a little over the years, and it wasn’t until President Truman signed an act of Congress designating June 14 as the “official Flag Day” that we settled on that date.
Flag Day seems an appropriate time to think about the Pledge of Allegiance that we all learned when we were in Elementary School. Specifically, I want to talk about the last six words: “with Liberty and Justice for all.”
As a person who has always had libertarian tendencies, it has sometimes seemed to me that the last six words of the Pledge have been forgotten by those who demand unwavering respect for the flag. Perhaps that’s because we don’t talk about what the WORDS of the Pledge actually mean, anymore.
I could write a long discussion about each element of the Pledge, but let me focus on two words: “Liberty” and “Justice.”
What is Liberty? Do we as a nation still believe in it? Here’s the definition form the Merriam Webster online dictionary:
“Liberty”: the quality or state of being free:
a : the power to do as one pleases
b : freedom from physical restraint
c : freedom from arbitrary or despotic control
d : the positive enjoyment of various social, political, or economic rights and privileges
e : the power of choice
As a Libertarian, I would add one caveat to all of these things: “provided that exercise of liberty does not directly harm someone else.” Hence, with liberty, comes self-responsibility (or as Uncle Ben said in Spiderman, “with great power, comes great responsibility”). If you want to drink alcohol, or engage in other risky behavior, most libertarians would say you should be allowed to do so—PROVIDED that you are not harming someone else in the process.
Of course in today’s society, “harm” (or “potential harm”) to others is often used as an excuse for limiting the liberty of others. This leaves us having to define what “harm” is, and where lines should be drawn, and those inevitably become political battles based on the preferences of those debating. If the liberty is one that a legislator doesn’t personally agree with, the common reaction is to want to restrict the liberty for all, on the grounds of it being “dangerous”—for society, or for the individuals themselves.
In Nebraska, every year that I’ve been in the Legislature, the question of our motorcycle helmet law comes up. Many motorcyclists would like for us to do away with the helmet law, and restore their liberty to ride without a helmet.
Whether riding without a helmet is a WISE thing to do, the question really comes down to whether individuals should have the liberty to choose for themselves. Potential harms—such as psychological trauma for first responders who answer a rescue call for someone who has been in a serious motorcycle accident, or the potential of spending more taxpayer dollars on long term care for those with traumatic brain injuries—are often raised as objections to getting rid of the helmet law. But what risks should adults be able to take upon themselves? Should government be able to punish you for taking those risks? Do we live in a state of liberty when government is exerting control over our behavior when it doesn’t directly and regularly harm someone else?
There are, of course, some actions which place others in very real physical danger—driving under the influence, for instance. But what real danger is someone who is riding a motorcycle without a helmet likely to place you or me in, when we're driving down the road in our SUVs?
There are tons of other examples government—whether at the national, state or local level—restricting the liberty of individuals to do what they please. Let’s have that conversation sometime!
What about “Justice”? There are varying definitions on the concept of “justice” as well, but I believe that in the context of the Pledge of Allegiance, Nebraska’s State Motto—“Equality Before the Law” pretty well covers it. We are a nation based on the rule of law, and our goal should be equal (and fair) treatment before the bar of justice.
Unfortunately, it seems to me that in an effort to be a nation of laws, we have gone down the road of having too many laws. Certainly we need laws that allow us to determine how to punish people who have done harm to others; we need laws to address how to handle civil disputes between neighbors. But sometimes I wonder if we haven’t taken it a little too far—and that in creating more laws, we’ve diminished our opportunities for real justice. I’ll expand on that thought in some commentary regarding criminal justice efforts that are underway, at a later time.
In the meantime—fly your flag, on Flag Day, and any other time. Not because you have to (we have the liberty NOT to do things, as well as TO do things), but because you WANT to. And at the very least, contemplate the meaning of the pledge that most of us have recited many times, to that flag.
One of the suggestions made during the Primary campaign was that I have been disproportionately favorable to “illegal immigrants.” So let’s try to clear some things up there, and have a conversation.
The question of immigration is highly contentious and we can disagree about what the appropriate policy for the FEDERAL Government should take is. But constitutionally, immigration is a federal policy, not a state one. We just respond. The federal government could (theoretically) grant permanent legal status to anyone in the country today—or could say that any person not a citizen in the country is subject to deportation immediately. In either instance, the state would follow the lead, and have to adjust laws accordingly.
My general philosophy with respect to immigration is this: I wish people would respect our borders, however I understand that the vast majority of people who come here--both with and without documentation--are searching for opportunity. I don't think that immigrants should get "special deals" (and indeed, if we didn't have a "welfare state", much of the argument about immigration would dissipate, I believe). But in the case of DACA recipients, they have kept their noses clean legally; they have been granted temporary lawful status by the federal government, and I believe that if they are going to be here, and are able to work, we shouldn't make it tougher for them.
The positions I took on DACA were supported by both business and business ag organizations--organizations which are generally quite conservative--because they believed that this was a "workforce" issue. Employers are looking for employees.
NOTE: I’ve had a number of people ask questions—either to me, or someone in my family—about the party switch to Libertarian two years ago. Mostly, people are just curious what a Libertarian believes. So here’s a shot at trying to start the conversation….
As many of you know, in 2016, I officially switched my party registration from “Republican” to “Libertarian.” There were many reasons for doing this, but I want to remind you (by way of direct quotes from that letter) of what I sent to many of you back in 2016:
My view of conservatism has always been a Goldwater-Reagan based view: smaller government, lower taxes, fiscal responsibility, personal responsibility, respect for constitutional rights—and on the national scene, a strong military, but not an overly aggressive one. In other words, I believe in a constitutionalism which looks to the principles of our founders as a guide….
I am happy to discuss and take responsibility for the votes I cast with my constituents…We will not always agree, but you deserve to know why I voted the way that I did. But the pressure—sometimes near bullying—by some of my colleagues, and outside forces—to vote a particular way because “that’s the Republican way” has disheartened me. There is no discussion about ideas, and little negotiation—if a bill is controversial, the teams are supposed to split up, and everyone is expected to “fly right.” I believe that’s lazy policymaking.
As a Republican, the pressure to vote with the Republican governor is significant. The truth be told, on the vast majority of issues I agree with Governor Ricketts, and will continue to agree with him. But the notion that the Governor should be able to tell legislators how to vote because they are registered in the same party—or that “good Republicans” would work to keep something “off of the Governor’s desk”--does a disservice to the role of the legislature and to the intention of the founders when they created a republican form of government with separate branches--and guaranteed state governments would be the same. I have no objection to conversations between the branches of government—in fact, I suspect that better policy would be made if there was more conversation and fewer demands of partisan loyalty.
I consider myself a “movement constitutional conservative ”—and while not all libertarians are conservative constitutionalists, many are; and those who would be considered “movement conservatives” almost always have a strong stream of libertarianism running through their veins. As President Ronald Reagan said, “the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism.” As the Republican Party has seemed to ignore constitutional governance; as Republicans have failed to make good on their promise of smaller government, lower taxes, fiscal control…this decision to make a break from the party that I’ve been registered with for 36 years, and active in for most of the 18 years before that, began to weigh heavily on my mind.
My decision to change my registration has nothing to do with a changing philosophy on my part. It has little to do with any particular candidate or candidates. It has some to do with life in the State Capitol, but it has a lot to do with a growing sense that I’ve had that the Republican Party of 2016 is fundamentally different than the Republican Party that I grew up in.
That’s not an easy question to answer, because it assumes that every Libertarian thinks the same things about everything. We can identify elements of the Libertarian platform, but that doesn’t mean that every Libertarian agrees with every element of the platform—any more than it means that every Republican or every Democrat agrees with every element of THEIR party platforms.
Likewise, even in a body like the Nebraska legislature, where something like 32 members are registered Republicans, it would be impossible to provide any comprehensive “every Republican” list of agreed upon principles.
So let me make a few brief statements:
Do these words sound familiar?
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”
Although there are some Libertarians who would take this even further, these words—from the Declaration of Independence—help define what most Libertarians stand for at its base level:
How these things are defined by specific Libertarians can differ. How they are applied can differ. But ultimately, I think that’s the direction that most Libertarians tell you they want to go.
In many states, voters don’t even register with a political party. In some places, for partisan primaries, they just go in and “declare” themselves with a particular party in a particular election. If we didn't have party registration in Nebraska, this whole question about a party switch would be non-existent.
Party affiliation is an imperfect definer of ideology. We’re all familiar with the notion (perhaps becoming less common, as people flee the traditional two parties and become “Independents”) of “liberal/moderate Republicans” or “conservative Democrats.” Self-defined identification as a “conservative” or a “liberal” can be based primarily on one set of policy issues, as well—for instance those who are pro-life/traditional family values may identify as “conservative”, but may in fact be quite “liberal” on economic issues; likewise, those who are pro-civil liberties “liberals” may also be very prudent fiscal “conservatives”.
The assumption that everyone who identifies with a particular party (or tags themselves with a particular ideological label) agrees with all others who wear the party or ideological label, is silly, at best. We are all individuals, capable of individual thought. The labels we tag ourselves with are voluntary; the labels others tag us with are based on their perception, not necessarily objective truth.
Party and ideological labels are shortcuts for trying to explain who we are to others; they’re not comprehensive definitions for who we are or what we believe.
I spent the first 54 years of my life identifying as a conservative-libertarian Republican. Those of you who have reached that advanced age know that we don’t usually change our basic political views after that. I don’t believe my views have changed all that much, either; what’s changed, is the label that I wear when I go in to vote in primary elections.
When I meet with students--but even occasionally with adults--I'm sometimes asked what my days look like during the session. During the week of January 26-February 3, I tried to track my activities a little more closely than usual, and thought that I'd share an overview of my week with you.
A couple of notes: My husband and kids are great. They put up with barely seeing me some days, and they chip in to keep the house in at least reasonable condition most of the time. Likewise, as will be clear from the schedule, I sometimes miss out on things in our communities because of the obligations of being present for committee hearings into the evening. I regret that, and wish that I could be at more Chamber dinners, or other events in the district during the January-April time frame. I do try to bounce around the district as much as I can on recess days, and on weekends when there are no other obligations--but sometimes it's just not possible for me to be in two places on the same day.
So, here's an outline of my week's schedule. Want to know what I do during the week? This is a pretty typical week, although they vary somewhat.
A week in the life….Sunday, January 28-Saturday, February 3.
Sunday—a Day of rest?
Monday—a “recess day” (no session):
Tuesday—back in session
Senator Ebke to Seek Re-election
Crete, NE, September 3, 2017– State Senator Laura Ebke announced her intention today to seek re-election in 2018 to the legislative seat that she was elected to in 2014.
It has been a great honor for me to serve the citizens of the 32nd Legislative district for almost 3 years now. During that time, I’ve conducted 34 town hall events in 18 different towns and villages in the district, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know the people and places of the district even better than I had before.
During the session, I’ve sent out near-weekly eNewsletters, and I’ve submitted semi-regular letters to the newspapers in the district. This past session, I began an every-other-Thursday call in on KUTT 99.5 Radio, as another means of communication—in addition to maintaining an active social media presence and speaking to civic organizations and school groups throughout the district. I hope to be able to continue doing that through 2022, with a re-election in 2018.
Sen. Ebke noted that while her political leanings include smaller, more efficient government which she believes can mean lower taxes and economic development, she has attempted to take a pragmatic approach to politics while in the Legislature, and to find areas of compromise with those across the political spectrum. In July, she began a monthly event—The Political Brew—in Crete, in which she brings together colleagues in the Legislature and other political figures, to join in a public conversation as an effort to demonstrate that political opponents can be collegial, and have good conversation about political issues without engaging in name calling.
Ebke (the former Laura Schwab) was raised in Fairbury, graduated from Fairbury High School (’80), and married her high school sweetheart, Dr. Russ Ebke (FHS ’79). The Ebke’s have 3 children, and became grandparents for the first time in March.
Senator Ebke currently serves as the Chair of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, as well as Chair of the Justice Reinvestment Oversight Committee (JROC) and the Legislature’s Special Oversight Committee for Corrections.
In addition to those positions, she also serves as a member of the Education Committee.
During the interim, Ebke—who has a PhD in Political Science—teaches as an adjunct instructor for Doane University’s Professional Studies Program.
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I mentioned in a recent newsletter, and a letter to the papers, that I would post a link to all of the reports that the Legislature has generated or received regarding the Corrections system over the last few years. Below are the links:
LR 424 (2014) Final Report, LR34 (2016) Final Report; Documentary Information for both
Ombudsman’s Report on May 2015 TSCI Riot
Inspector General of the Nebraska Correctional System—first report (newly created position), Fall, 2016.