'Common man' Exon in touch with state

Monday, June 13, 2005

The former editor and publisher of the McCook Daily Gazette, Allen Strunk, played a key role in the political career of J.J. Exon, the former Nebraska governor and senator who passed away Friday at age 83.

Strunk, a conservative Republican, broke with tradition in 1970 when he became the only daily newspaper publisher in the state to endorse Exon in the race for governor against Norbert Tiemann.

Contacted at his Las Vegas home this morning, Strunk said he was moved to support Exon because he was a "common Joe" who was in touch with the people. "Exon had been a businessman in Lincoln and the 1970 campaign was his first run for office," Strunk said. "He impressed me as being much more in tune with the wishes of the people than did Tiemann, who came across as pompous."

The endorsement of Strunk was helpful in the hard-fought race. Another factor was the negative feedback which Tiemann received following passage of state sales and income tax legislation.

Exon's victory in 1970 launched a political career that continued through two terms as governor and three terms as a United States Senator. Whenever he was in Southwest Nebraska, Exon made it a point to stop by the Gazette office for visits with Strunk.

Exon also was an important figure in the lives of two other former McCook residents: the late Frank Morrison, a former governor of Nebraska; and Ben Nelson, a former governor and current U.S. Senator from Nebraska.

Nelson struck the same theme as Strunk, saying, "Jim Exon was a common man who dearly loved the state of Nebraska and that's why the people loved him. He was one of them and they knew it and were proud of it. His fingerprints are all over the history of Nebraska and he'll go down as one of the greatest leaders this state has ever known."

During this lifetime, Morrison spoke highly of Exon, as did Exon of Morrison. Exon was among the many mourners when Morrison passed away in 2003 at age 98.

Other than George W. Norris of McCook, Exon was the only Nebraskan to win five consecutive elections. The state will miss him, as will the McCook area, which had a significant role in Exon's long political career.

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