A great idea from a great statesman

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Three months short of his 99th birthday, former Nebraska Gov. Frank B. Morrison is proposing an idea which he hopes will capture the imagination of both of America's major political parties.

What Frank wants is for the 2004 Republican and Democratic nominees to hold a Presidential Debate at the Arch.

What's that, again? You heard right. Morrison wants the Presidential nominees to meet face-to-face in a Presidential Debate at the Great Platte River Road Memorial Archway near Kearney.

In making the announcement Monday during a meeting with the Gazette publisher, Morrison said, "President's Day is an appropriate time to announce the extension of an invitation to hold a very important Presidential Debate at the Great Platte River Road Memorial Archway." He added: "Thursday (Feb. 19), I expect to secure the approval of the Board of Directors of the Memorial Archway, of which I am the president and chairman, to extend to both political parties an invitation to hold an historical debate at this place."

Why hold the debate at the Arch? Because, Gov. Morrison says, "The Great Platte River Road Memorial marks the place where three historical trails converged to constitute one of the greatest peacetime migrations of people in all of history." The blending of those trails -- the Oregon, the California and the Mormon -- was the first step in establishing the Platte's premier role as a transportation link for America.

In oratorical tones so rarely reached by today's political speakers, Morrison said the westward trek through Nebraska was the forerunner of a transportation revolution. "The pioneer trails were followed by the first transcontinental railroad, the first transcontinental highway, the first transcontinental telephone and telegraph lines, the first transcontinental airline and the first transcontinental fiber-optic line," Morrison declared with his raspy, but still booming, voice.

"All of these converged to turn a young nation into a vast continental empire and to lay the foundation for America's important role in today's world community," he exclaimed passionately. Then, he closed by saying: "There is no more historic place in which to debate the problems which may determine the quality of civilization in the years to come."

Bringing a presidential debate to the Arch in Nebraska is a tall order, but Gov. Morrison has never let imposing odds stop him before. While his focus is on presidential politics, the 99-year-old governor is fighting for survival. He has cancer of the esophagus, and doctors have told him the tumor is growing and inoperable.

But, in the interview, the state of his health was of little concern to the man who served three terms, from 1961 to 1967, as Nebraska's governor. He would rather talk about the archway debate. "Presidential debates, while imperfect, are the best chance for the public to make an informed choice," he said, hope for a better world still shining brightly in his eyes.

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