As ‘Fearless Maids’ flock to the Democrats in the US, Republican senator makes passionate anti-Trump speech, writes Susan Dalgety.
Nebraska is the most scarlet of red states. In the 2016 Presidential election, Trump won nearly 60 per cent of the vote. His current approval rating is 50 per cent.
The state’s two senators are Republicans, its three members of the House of Representatives are Republicans.
But here’s a thing. Its 49 state senators, the equivalent of MSPs if you will, are non-partisan. In Nebraska, party politics is strictly for Washington DC.
“The senators are here to represent all their constituents,” emphasised the young man leading us on a tour of the state’s Capitol in Lincoln.
Dressed in a red plaid shirt, he looked more like a corn farmer than a government employee, but his casual dress belied his expertise.
“There are no sides in our senate,” he goes on. “Senators can belong to a party if they wish, but they are not allowed to represent a party when they are in the senate.”
The two American couples on our tour looked bored. I was fascinated.
“Tell me more,” I begged.
“Well, senators are time-limited, they are limited to two consecutive, four year-terms. It encourages new thinking,” he said.
This experiment in democracy started in 2000, when voters amended the state’s constitution. Not everyone likes the rule, with one veteran senator complaining that term limits “gutted the Legislature as a branch of government”, but others are more positive.
“It’s just a cleaner form of government,” declared the senator for North Platte, Mike Groene, “the senators are closer to the people now.”
Nebraska is not the only state to apply term limits. There are 14 others, from Arizona to South Dakota. A majority of states (36) have term limits for their governors and, of course, an American President can only serve two four-year terms.
But Nebraska is the only state to have a unicameral system. “Just like the Scottish Parliament,” I chipped in, to the consternation of our companions who were clearly far more interested in the senate chamber’s carved ceiling than a political science lesson.
“Yes,” smiled our guide, “The theory is that all decisions are made in this one room, so new laws are made faster, and the process is more transparent.”
That is where the similarity to the Scottish Parliament ended.
“The Capitol was built on time, and under budget,” boasted the young man, but modestly. “It took ten years to build, starting in 1922, and cost $9.8 million. The budget was $10m.
“And there was no debt, it was paid for along the way, one million a year. When the Depression started to hit in 1932 and money dried up, the building was finished except for the art, so the senators decided not to commission any. The murals you can see here were put in place in the 1960s.”
One of those murals pays homage to Minnie Mae Freeman, a school teacher in rural Nebraska in the 1880s.
On 12 January 1888, her one-room school house, with its 12 pupils, was caught in the eye of one the worst snow storms ever to hit the USA.
As the blizzard tore off the schoolhouse’s tarpaper roof, 19-year-old Minnie Mae knew she had to act, and quickly.
She tied a length of twine round each child’s wrist and then, wrapping the end round herself, she led her terrified young charges a mile through the snow to a farmhouse, and safety.
Her heroism went viral, earning her 200 marriage proposals and the nickname ‘Nebraska’s Fearless Maid’. And a rather belated obituary in the New York Times. In one of those delightful moments of serendipity that make travelling so satisfying, two days after our visit to the State Capitol, the newspaper published a tribute to Minnie in its ‘Overlooked’ section, stories of remarkable Americans whose deaths were previously unreported.
Minnie Mae did not fade into obscurity after her teenage act of heroism. She was a political activist, becoming the first woman to represent Nebraska on the Republican party’s national committee.
She also became state president of the Federation of Women’s clubs and held other prestigious positions. She may have achieved fame through her courage, and political prominence thanks to her talent and perseverance, but to the male-dominated society she grew up in, she was still just a woman.
Her family have saved some of the awards that she received, and they show that the printed pronoun “him” had to be crossed out to be replaced by a hand-written “her”.
One of her great granddaughters, Laurie Penney, who also became a schoolteacher, told the New York Times that she used Minnie Mae as a role model for her students.
“We don’t give women enough respect for what they’ve accomplished in this world,” she said. “The girls were always concerned about that, and I told them, ‘Here’s an example of what we can do.’”
No doubt there are more than a few Republicans in Washington DC wishing they could cross out the female pronoun this week.
America’s sex war continues to flare out of control, with no sign of it abating.
On Tuesday, in what veteran commentator Chris Matthews described as “one of the worst things he has done”, President Trump made fun of Dr Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who recently testified that Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her.
Speaking at a political rally in Mississippi, the world’s most powerful man taunted Dr Ford, and incited his supporters to join him in mocking her.
It was a shameful moment in this great country’s history, prompting Nebraska senator – and Republican – Ben Sasse to make an impassioned speech the next day, where he stated bluntly: “We all know that the president cannot lead us through this time.”
The women of America certainly know that Trump is not the right man for them, with the majority now supporting the Democrats. One recent poll suggested nearly two-thirds of women will vote blue in the mid-term elections.
Trump will still be in the White House after 6 November, even if the Democrats sweep to power in the House of Representatives and the Senate.
But his hold on power will start to weaken, and as the Mueller investigation concludes, there is every chance he will face impeachment.
Dr Ford may well have the last laugh as a disgraced Trump leaves the White House to the sound of uproarious laughter from the women of America.