LINCOLN–The Nebraska Legislature’s 49 members, like their colleagues in all but about 10 states, don’t rely on their lawmaking roles to make a living. Instead, they juggle careers alongside their legislative duties, often as attorneys or business owners.
But some bring occupational experiences to Lincoln that offer unique perspectives. Here’s a look at three of them:
Sen. Dan Quick of Grand Island worked as a power plant maintenance mechanic before joining the Legislature. Quick said he retired the day before the legislative session started in order to devote his attention to the new task before him.
“I just felt like I needed to dedicate the proper amount of time toward being a legislator, and I didn’t see how I would be able to work a job and be a legislator,” Quick said.
While some people can balance being a senator with holding another job, Quick said he didn’t think that would be fair to the people of Grand Island and the power plant with how much he would be absent.
Quick first began interacting with the Legislature while he was a member of the Central Nebraska Labor Council. He would often meet with senators to lobby on issues working families faced. Quick said he was approached by several senators who asked him to run and said he would be a good voice for working families.
“I never really dreamed of working in politics, but when people thought I would be someone that would be a great legislator or do a good job in that line of work, I had to consider it,” Quick said.
After four months of deliberating with his wife, Quick decided to give running a try and was elected in 2016.
Quick said his summers are now spent attending conferences and working on interim studies to prepare for the next session. This summer, Quick will visit mental health facilities in conjunction with a legislative resolution Sen. Lynne Walz of Fremont proposed during the past session.
He also spends time working on bills and meeting with constituents.
“I’m just trying to gain as much knowledge as I can so I can help my constituents as much as I can,”Quick said.
Sen. John Kuehn of Heartwell also has an unusual occupational background. Kuehn has a family ranch operation, teaches biology at Hastings College and is a veterinarian for large animals when he’s not fulfilling his legislative duties.
Kuehn teaches biology, anatomy and physiology during the fall and advises students during the month of January while the Legislature is in session. He also raises cattle and runs a calving operation at his ranch. When the Legislature is not in session, Kuehn has time to see large animal patients at his veterinary practice.
“For me, balance really is kinda a myth,” Kuehn said. “It’s more about dedicating specific chunks of time in my day that are dedicated to focusing on one of my endeavors.”
Kuehn said he likes to get to the capitol around 6 or 6:30 on mornings he has hearings or meetings. He uses the extra time in the morning to catch up on emails and prepare for the legislative day. During lunch time, Kuehn will handle issues relating to teaching and advising as well as checking in on the ranch at home.
With a packed schedule during the week, Kuehn said he likes to take the weekends to drive home to Heartwell, about 130 miles west of Lincoln, and step away from his duties in the statehouse.
His first interactions with the Legislature came during his time as a chair on the local public power board. Kuehn said he was approached to run when his predecessor was term limited.
“I made the decision that it was either continue to complain about what was happening in Lincoln or to run and be a part of it and try to make a difference,” he said.
With a background in science, Kuehn looks at issues differently from his colleagues.
“I tend to approach issues with a greater reliance upon evidence and information as opposed to emotion and the political messaging,” Kuehn said.
Political rhetoric tends to be focused on the most extreme case possible to try to sway people to vote, he said.
Like rancher Kuehn, Sen. Joni Albrecht of Thurston brings farming experience to the Legislature, something less common in largely urban states. Her family runs a cow and calf operation and plants corn, soybeans and alfalfa.
Albrecht has 10 grandkids under the age of 8 and said she has recently enjoyed spending more time as grandma rather than helping out in the fields. She spends time at home cooking for the family, running meals to the men and helping pick up parts to service the farm vehicles.
“It’s a great life,” Albrecht said. “I love it.”
During the interim, Albrecht spends time meeting for coffee with constituents to update them on what’s happening in the Legislature. She said it’s a balance of deciding when she wants to be in Lincoln and when she wants to be at home.
“Your work is outside of the building, it’s not really inside,” Albrecht said.
Since her district in the northeast corner of the state is 170 miles wide, she tries to set aside specific days to visit towns instead of traveling every day of the week.
Albrecht said that she wouldn’t have been prepared for the Legislature had she not been a part of city council previously.
“I figure, what if I’m only here for four years?” Albrecht said.
Her home life shaped the platform she ran on and what issues she wanted to focus on during her time as a senator.
“Becoming a farmer in the last eight years and realizing how hard it is, [and] that we can lose a lot of farm families in this state if we don’t do something with property tax relief, that drove me,” Albrecht said.
With such an array of professional experience in the Legislature, the way laws are conceived, written and debated changes.
“The diversity of experience that each senator brings, brings a new perspective to a policy issues, and the greater the professional and academic diversity that we have in the Legislature, the better the policy we are going to get,” Kuehn said.
“A lot of the senators bring their life experiences to the Legislature,” Quick said. “Mine is just a little different from the others.”