McCOOK, Nebraska -- In one of the reddest of Red States, Nebraska, the nation's only non-partisan unicameral legislature has chosen eight Democrats, seven Republicans and one Independent for the unicameral's top leadership positions.
"This is significant," said Tom Vickers, a former Nebraska state senator who is now a member of the Norris Institute of McCook, Nebraska.
"In this time of political rancor, where spokesmen for both parties are mean-spirited, impolite and poor examples of the fellowship which predominates in America, it is refreshing to see a process where party lines don't make a difference. I'm so proud of the men and women who comprise the roster of the 2013 Nebraska non-partisan, unicameral legislature. Because of the two-term limit in effect in Nebraska, many of them are new to legislative service, but when it came time to vote for the Speaker's position and Committee Chairmanships they did not ask questions about party affiliation. They chose the person who they felt was best for the job, no matter whether that person was a Republican, a Democrat or an Independent."
Vickers spoke out during the first-ever Norris Planning Summit. The session, which took place Friday, Jan. 11 in McCook, Neb., was dedicated to reminding Americans of the principles of George W. Norris (1861-1944). Norris was a member of the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate for 40 years. Sen. Norris was among the legislators featured in President John Kennedy's book, "Profiles in Courage," and, in 1959, Sen. Norris was selected as the top choice among America's greatest senators by a nationwide advisory committee of 160 scholars.
"Senator Norris, a Republican, was described as 'The Gentle Knight of Progressive Ideals' by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945), a Democrat," Vickers said. "Norris, who worked with Roosevelt to create the Rural Electrification Administration and the Tennessee Valley Authority, was revered by Roosevelt because of the quality and sincerity of his statesmanship. Norris had differences, sometimes sharp differences with big business and other politicians, but in the heat of the hottest battles he remained a gentleman determined to succeed because of the power of his position, not because of the loudness or meanness of his voice."
The votes for the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature's leadership positions, all taken by secret ballot, included the selection of Gregg Adams, a Republican, as the Speaker of the Legislature.
The committee chairmanship selections are as follows. The position is listed first, followed by the name of the legislator chosen; his hometown; and his party affiliation:
Appropriations: Heath Mello, Omaha, Democrat; Natural Resources: Tom Carlson, Holdrege, Republican; Transportation & Telecommunications: Annette Dubas, Fullerton, Democrat; Agriculture: Ken Schilz, Ogallala, Republican; Banking: Mike Gloor, Grand Island, Republican; Education: Kate Sullivan, Cedar Rapids, Democrat; Revenue: Galen Hadley, Kearney, Republican; Business & Labor: Steve Lathrop, Omaha, Democrat; General Affairs: Russ Karpisek, Wilber, Democrat; Health: Kathy Campbell, Lincoln, Republican; Judiciary: Brad Ashford, Omaha, Independent; Retirement: Jeremy Nordquist, Omaha, Democrat; Urban Affairs: Amanda McGill, Lincoln, Democrat; Executive Board: John Wightman, Lexington, Republican.
During the Norris Planning Summit at the Keystone Business Center in McCook, Nebraska, it was announced that a nationwide campaign has been launched to create an REA Eternal Light Display in McCook. The always-illuminated light display is proposed as a tribute to Rural Electrification and to Sen. Norris, who was one of the principal advocates of the creation of the REA.
Note: The author of this article, Gene O. Morris, is the retired publisher of the McCook Daily Gazette. He was the first winner of Nebraska's Editorial Leadership Award and has been inducted into the Nebraska Newspaper Hall of Fame.