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The family affair tradition lives on in the Unicameral

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It’s another first for the nation’s only nonpartisan, one-house legislature. The first brother-sister act is coming to the Nebraska Legislature in January.

John Cavanaugh will be sworn in to represent Omaha’s Dist. 9. He’ll serve with his sister Machaela who was elected in 2018 to represent Dist. 6. They’re the children of John Cavanaugh who served one term in the Legislature after his 1972 election. He then served in Congress from 1976- 1980. With Machaela’s election, the Cavanaugh’s became the first father-daughter to serve. Now it’s father-daughter and father-son.

The family affairs started in 1937 when the late Charles Warner of Waverly was elected to the very first Unicameral where he served as the first Speaker of the Legislature. He had served in the Nebraska House from 1901 to 1907 and had served in the Nebraska Senate from 1919 to 1936. He also served four terms as lieutenant governor. Warner’s

Warner’s son Jerome (Jerry) Warner served from 1963 until his death in 1997. He was speaker from 1969-1971 and was the longest serving chairman of the powerful nine-member Appropriations Committee. He was a champion of Nebraska’s Dept. of Roads and the stretch of Nebraska Hwy 2 from Lincoln to Nebraska City is named the Jerome and Betty Warner Expressway. The late Betty Warner worked for the roads department and wrote many of the state’s annual road plans.

Like father, like son. Like mother, like son. Like mother, like daughter. Like uncle, like nephew. Like son, like father. Before the Cavanaughs, the latest addition to the affair came in 2016 when Steve Erdman of Bayard was elected to represent Dist. 47. His son, Phil, served the Panhandle district two terms from 2001-09.

Another father-son combo was Stanley Matzke Sr. who served from 1940-1942 and again from 1964-1966. It was during his later term that he championed making the technical school at Milford (in his district) a part of the Southeast Community College system.

His son Gerald Matzke served District 47 from 1993 to 2000 and, like his father, was statesmanlike in his demeanor.

Sen. Maurice Kremer of Aurora served in the Legislature from 1963-83. He was best known for helping establish groundwater laws and earned the nickname, “Mr. Water.”

He was chair of the Agriculture and Public Works committees. He also later served on the board of trustees for the Nebraska Groundwater Foundation. His son Bob served from 1999 through 2006. The younger Kremer served on the Natural Resources Committee and was, like his father, chair of the Agriculture Committee.

Sen. Carol Pirsch of Omaha served from 1979 to 1997. Her son Pete followed in her footsteps and served from 2007 to 2015. Carol Pirsch was on the Judiciary Committee. Pete was on the Banking and Revenue committees.

Omaha Sen. Gwen Howard served from 2005-2012. She was a member of the Legislature’s Education and Health and Human Services Committees.

After being term-limited, she was replaced by her daughter Sarah Howard in 2013. Like her mother, she served on the Health and Human Services Committee as well as the Banking and Finance Committee. She was term-limited this year opening the door for the race won by Cavanaugh. Sen. Ray Janssen of Hooper

Sen. Ray Janssen of Hooper was elected to the Legislature in 1993 and served until 2008. A grocer, Janssen was a member of the Urban Affairs and Revenue Committee, which he chaired. He was replaced by his nephew, Charlie Janssen of Fremont, who ran and served from 2009 to 2014 when he resigned and was elected State Auditor. The younger Janssen also served on the Government and Transportation committees during his legislative tenure.

But now we have a true sibling rivalry. Yet another interesting first in the halls of the State Capitol.

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