One House


One House

The Unicameral's Progressive Vision for Nebraska, Second Edition

new edition

Charlyne Berens
With a new introduction by the author

286 pages
7 photographs, 3 appendixes


January 2014


$24.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

When Nebraskans voted to trade in their bicameral, partisan legislature for a one-house, nonpartisan body in 1934, it was a revolutionary decision. George Norris, a U.S. senator from Nebraska, argued that the new institution would be more open, efficient, responsible, and responsive to the people it was meant to serve. An ardent progressive, Norris convinced his fellow Nebraskans that a nonpartisan, unicameral legislature would take power from the elites and return it to the people. One House examines the forces at work behind the unicameral’s creation and chronicles the lawmakers’ struggles to remain true to the populist, progressive vision of its founders and the people of Nebraska.

Using historical research, surveys of Nebraskans, and in-depth interviews with senators and legislative observers, Charlyne Berens examines whether the promises that Norris and his fellow unicameral promoters made have held up over the years. The one-house legislature remains a unique experiment in American democracy as well as a powerful symbol of Nebraskans’ identity. In a new introduction for this second edition, Berens discusses the recent addition of term limits.

Author Bio

Charlyne Berens is an associate dean and a professor of journalism and mass communications at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. She is the author of Power to the People: Social Choice and the Populist/Progressive Ideal and Chuck Hagel: Moving Forward (available in a Bison Books edition).


"As good a single volume work on this niche subject as can be found. . . . Readership should be intense within the prime immediate audience—state senators past and present, lobbyists past and present, political science types in or out of the academe. Yet this documentary and analysis also would be a valuable examination for Nebraskans generally. . . . Berens invested substantial effort researching her subject, via interviews and the published record."—Lincoln Journal Star

“Berens writes in a relaxed style that is informative without being too technical. . . . Using surveys and interviews of current Nebraska state senators, Berens examines various aspects of unicameralism today—such as the power of lobbyists, the openness of decision making, the anticipated effects of term limits, and the influence of political party in the officially non-partisan legislature.”—Nebraska Life

"The book does make a valuable contribution that recommends it to those interested in the history and development of Nebraska's nonpartisan Unicameral. Berens succeeds in showing where the Unicameral has lived up to its promise and where it has fallen short."—James B. Johnson, Great Plains Research

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1. One of a Kind
2. Power to the People
3. Let the Sun Shine In
4. Forty-Nine Independent Contractors
5. We, the People
6. "You Lie, You're Gone"
7. Promises Fulfilled?
Appendix 1: Survey Results
Appendix 2. George Norris's 1923 Article in the New York Times
Appendix 3. George Norris's 1934 Model Legislature Speech
Bibliographic Essay

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