'Gentle knight' should not be forgotten

Monday, January 6, 2020

While most of us were worrying about mystery drones or watching the Golden Globes, a Nebraska observance slipped by with barely a mention in McCook, where it should have been in the spotlight.

Jan. 5 is designated “George W. Norris Day and shall be set apart for holding suitable exercises in the schools of the state in recognition of the many great benefits bestowed upon the people of the State of Nebraska and the United States as a whole, due in large part to the influence of George W. Norris.”

If you’re new to McCook, or even if you’ve lived here a long time, you may not have heard of those “great benefits.”

They include:

-- Establishment of a nonpartisan unicameral legislative body for the State of Nebraska

-- Establishment of the Tennessee Valley Authority

-- The development of electricity in the rural areas of the nation

-- Passage of the 20th amendment to the United State Constitution, commonly known as the lame duck amendment.

-- The Norris La Guardia Act which outlawed yellow-dog contracts and was a great boon to working men and women across the nation

Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that Norris, a progressive and liberal for his time, has fallen out of favor in today’s partisan political climate.

Reminding Nebraskans that the unicameral is nonpartisan seems to be a losing battle, from candidates openly promoting their party affiliations to few lawmakers willing to stray from the party line.

But Nebraska has always had a progressive, or at least populist aspect to its political climate, from the turn of the 19th century through the 20th when it insisted on electing Democrats like Gov. Frank B. Morrison, profiled elsewhere on this page, to Bob Kerrey and McCook’s own Ben Nelson, who both took turns in the governor’s mansion and U.S. Senate.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, referred to Norris, his Senate ally during the Depression, as "the very perfect gentle knight of American progressive ideals." Defeated for a sixth term in 1942, he retired to McCook, where he died on Sept. 2, 1944.

Norris earned a spot in JFK’s “Profiles in Courage,” and a 1957 advisory panel of 160 scholars recommended that Norris was the top choice for the five best Senators in U.S. history.

In today’s hyper-partisan political landscape, leaders with George W. Norris’ character are sorely needed.

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  • "It is, or should be, the simple things of life that contribute most to culture and civilization. Men have been establishing homes, building factories, harnessing streams, bridging canyons, conquering the earth and skies. And yet rich are the people in this world to whom trees, and water, and growing things bring hope and happiness."

    This is from chapter 10, Marriage and Home, in the George Norris autobiography, 'The Fighting Liberal.'

    -- Bruce Hoffman, Norris Institute board member

    -- Posted by croswind on Mon, Jan 6, 2020, at 1:35 PM
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