Nebraska Lawmaker Has Filibustered for Nine Weeks—and She’s Not Done
Machaela Cavanaugh says she’ll do whatever it takes to stop the anti-trans bill in her state.
Machaela Cavanaugh has filibustered the Nebraska state legislature for nine weeks straight, all to make sure a bill banning gender-affirming care for minors never makes it to a final vote.
Cavanaugh made waves when she first began her filibuster in February for saying she would “burn the session to the ground over this bill.”
“If this legislature collectively decides that legislating hate against children is our priority, then I am going to make it painful, painful for everyone,” she said. “I have nothing, nothing but time, and I am going to use all of it.”
Cavanaugh has made good on her word: There are three weeks left in the legislature’s 90-day session, and the chamber just passed its first bill last week, as she and other Democratic senators have blocked measure after measure.
She spoke with The New Republic about why she decided to block the anti-trans bill, what the effect has been, and the importance of good footwear.
1. Why is it important to block this bill?
Seeing legislation, any legislation that targets a vulnerable population is upsetting to me, and seeing people in positions of power push forward things that are really perpetuated out of a place of fear and hate is really upsetting.
I’m a mom of three kids, I am a very ferocious mama bear for all children. A lot of my legislation in my first four years was focused on maternal health and child welfare, and I’ve done a significant amount of work specifically around child welfare in Nebraska. So I’m very passionate about protecting our kids, all of our kids. All of our kids.
This and the abortion bill that was just blocked is government overreach in health care, and getting in between a patient and a provider and making their health care decisions based on the personal views of elected officials. And that’s not how health care should work.
2. What was unusual about this bill?
One of the great things about Nebraska is that we’re unicameral, and we’re nonpartisan. We pride ourselves on taking a moderate approach to policymaking and taking time and working diligently on specific policy issues over several years to get things right.
That’s one of the things that’s really unusual about this specific bill, is that this came from a freshman senator. It’s a brand new policy idea. It’s obviously from a national group, it’s terribly written. It’s just not Nebraska, in every sense of it, not just that it is legislating hate. Not just that it is attacking a minority population, but also just the approach. It’s trying to be rushed through and rammed through. And that’s just not how we do things.
3. Have there been repercussions for you?
Certainly there’s a price for me to pay. None of my legislation will be debated on the floor. I won’t pass any legislation this year. Anything that I cared about accomplishing legislatively will not happen, but nothing that I would want to accomplish would be more important than stopping hateful legislation against trans children.
Also, a few weeks ago, I talked about the 10 steps of genocide and correlated that to legislation such as the bill attacking gender-affirming care. And one of my colleagues made a motion to censure me. It’s the second time in the history of the legislature that a motion to censure a senator had been put forward. The other time was a gentleman in the ’50s, and he was running like a racketeering scam. So on par, obviously.
4. What do you make of the repercussions against other lawmakers who have opposed anti-trans legislation, such as Montana Representative Zooey Zephyr and Nebraska Senator Megan Hunt?
What happened to Representative Zephyr is devastating for democracy. And I’m so grateful to her for her work and her advocacy and how she’s continuing to show up for her constituents in every way that she’s able to.
A man filed a complaint against Senator Hunt because she has not filed a conflict of interest form because she has a transgender son, and it’s clearly meant to be a harassment and intimidation tactic. This gentleman is an internet troll and scourge of the earth. And he’s also an attorney, which makes him an officer of the court. And as an officer of the court, it is irresponsible for him to file such a frivolous complaint.
5. How do you find the energy to keep this up?
I’m very tired! Coffee, insomnia, pure will—I don’t know how I find the energy. I don’t really think about finding the energy. I just get up every day and force myself to put my shoes on and walk into that chamber and push my button and talk. If I think about it too much, I probably will get debilitated with anxiety and stress.
I was having serious back problems. I used to wear heels. And now I’m wearing Skechers, pink Skechers, every day.
6. What has been the effect of so much national attention?
I don’t think my colleagues care for it. I think it frustrates and irritates them. Earlier this week, our local Chamber of Commerce gave a statement about how detrimental this type of anti-trans policy is to workforce recruitment in our state, to the business community. And I think the more we start to see entities like that the better, because this isn’t good public policy. Attention and pressure are hopefully what’s going to change the tide on this type of legislation, and I hope not just in Nebraska. I hope across the country.
7. How long will you keep going?
Until day 90. And if I have to go pick it back up when we start our session next year, I’m prepared to do that. I’m prepared to do whatever it takes.
The message that I’m trying to send to the trans community, specifically trans children, [is] that they matter, that they are loved, that they are worth fighting for, and that I am going to fight for them.
I also hope that people see what I’m doing, what people are doing in other states, and recognize that this is not a partisan issue. This is coming from somewhere far-flung. It is a human rights and a civil rights and a parental rights issue. And we should all be standing up against that. And we shouldn’t be standing behind our party. We should be standing together.
This interview has been edited for clarity.