Once upon a time in Omaha

I received an email overnight with a link to an obituary for former Nebraska Senator Dave Karnes and the memory floodgates burst open. My early post-graduate life in Omaha came spilling out with people and places and extraordinary experiences that continue to shape me today.

My uncle was friends with a woman who was putting together a Senate office in Omaha for the newly appointed Senator from Nebraska. Riley was quite persuasive in his charm (it was a different time) and his niece was a freshly-minted college graduate with a BA in Political Science, wouldn’t you like to meet her?

The next thing I know, I’m a Senate staffer working on constituent advocacy. I loved it. I met lifelong friends. Attended swanky parties. Answered daily calls from a gentleman who called himself the Bennington Badger. Helped people who were tied up in the red tape of government bureaucracy or needed to get a passport in four days for an emergency trip out of the country. I traveled with the Senator around Nebraska and met ordinary folks doing extraordinary things.

Senator Karnes was a quiet, intelligent, and kind person whose wife and their four young daughters was his world. He had never held any political office before he was tapped to fill the term of Senator Ed Zorinsky who died in office. Sometimes I think that he might have been more comfortable if his wife Liz, who held a doctorate in education and was amazing in the spotlight, had been appointed. And, actually, I think that Dr. Liz could have given Bob Kerrey a good run in the 1988 election. They were both charismatic in their public personalities.

Dave and Liz would likely be moderate democrats by today’s standards. Old-school republicans. They fought hard for agriculture, water rights, public education, and for the people of Nebraska. Liz passed in 2003 from cancer after a 12-year fight – so indicative of her personality and mettle. They were both deeply devoted to their family, to Omaha, and to the state of Nebraska. Tireless progressive conservatives who worked for the greater good. Now that we are at the end of one of the most divisive and ugly campaigns in recent history, I think back 30 years when I was working for a campaign and a woman from the Republican National Committee told me that I was way too nice for politics. I have always taken that as one of the highest compliments I’ve ever been given. I also took her advice and left the party as well.

Rest in peace, Dave, knowing that you made a difference in your lifetime.

Rest in peace, Senator, and know that your life’s work made a difference.


Published by Laura Nelson Lof

I'm a lifelong Iowan and a proud alum of The University of Iowa. I'm a writer, an armchair political scientist, and an accomplished sports spectator.

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