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About The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current | View Entire Issue (Dec. 10, 1998)
“We want to make it possi
ble for you to stay in the state,”
Nelson said. “We’re not going
to put up a fence around the
state, we’re not going to chain
you to the state, but what we
; ought to be doing is make sure
we have sufficient incentives
; to keep young people in
■ Nebraska, particularly those
who are among the best and
' brightest of Nebraska.”
Seducing the buck
Brain gain efforts dove
tailed with Nelson’s other eco
nomic development initia
Nelson said he sought to
both build existing Nebraska
industry and attract new busi
nesses from other states, with
the goal of increasing the
number of jobs in the state.
“Obviously you want as
many new companies as you
can to move to the state, but
not at the expense of having
companies already here
expand,” he said.
By visiting Asian and
Latin American nations 12
times in the past eight years,
Nelson has sought to build
contacts between state busi
ness leaders and foreign deal
By tripling the amount of Nebraska exports -
including items as diverse as agricultural pro
jects and high-tech manufactured goods - new
jobs have been created and those jobs typically
pay more than non-export jobs, Nelson said.
Maxine Moul, director of the Department of
Economic Development, said the foreign trade
trips have created new opportunities for trade
and paved the way for future expansion of inter
“Certainly these trade missions have been
high-profile, but because they’re high-profile
they certainly have raised the awareness of busi
ness of the importance of international trade,”
The other side of economic development
under the Nelson administration has been trying
to attract new businesses to Nebraska. Though
Nebraska failed to lure giants such as computer
manufacturer Micron Technology Inc. and
Mercedes-Benz, Nelson said tax incentive pro
grams for existing Nebraska businesses have
encouraged business growth.
After bolstering incentives, Nebraska did
succeed in wooing one major corporation last
GOV. BEN NELSON speaks to the Legislature
in his final State of the State address Jan.
12. In his speech, Nelson touted the state’s
flourishing economy but charged state sena
tors to drive down taxes.
year, resulting in a Caterpillar manufacturing
plant in Omaha.
When Nelson took office in 1991, the state
had not executed a death row inmate since
Charles Starkweather in 1959.
During Nelson’s eight years as governor,
three prisoners have gone to the electric chair,
and a fourth execution is scheduled for early
As one of three members of the state’s
Pardons Board, Nelson has the power to stop a
planned execution. He said that situation posed
difficult moral conflicts.
Nelson said he was lobbied heavily by oppo
nents of capital punishment, who said he should
use his power to prevent what they said was an
unjust practice. But as governor, Nelson said he
knew his responsibility was to uphold state law,
regardless of his personal feelings.
“You’re faced with the ultimate decision,” he
said. “There is some comfort in knowing that you
have to follow the law. Now the disquieting side is
that you know that there’s a life involved, friends
involved, family involved, victims involved; there
is, in fact, the person - the condemned.”
He who cared
NELSON SITS ON Santa Claus’ lap and asks
Santa to bring all Nebraskans a happy holi
day season during Sunday night’s farewell
dinner. rrr: ‘
“He has done well,” he said. “He can walk
away with his head high. About the only stain on
his career was his stunning defeat at the hands of
Nelson said he jumped into the 1996 Senate
I Robak ready for new duties
■ The lieutenant governor
plans to spend time with her
family and begin a job with
the University of Nebraska.
By Todd Anderson
Senior staff writer
At a recent dinner and dance trib
ute for Gov. Ben Nelson, Lt. Gov. Kim
Robak and her oldest daughter
attempted to make their way to the
Stopped several times by a deluge
of people ready to shake hands with
the state’s No. 2 leader, it took the
mother-daughter team some time to
find a moment alone.
After finally arriving on the floor
in front of the band, frustrated 10
year-old Katherine was relieved she
finally had Robak all to herself.
“Mom, you’ve been lieutenant
governor long enough,' she said. “It's
time for you to be Mom.”
That type of advice not only
guides Robak as she leaves office in
January, but also stayed with her
before the 1998 gubernatorial elec
Though some Nebraska
Democrats counted on Robak to be
the top candidate for governor in the
November 1998 election, Robak
stepped back to let someone else fill
“ "I just was not willing to give up
that time with my kids." Robak said.
Robak, a native of Columbus and
daughter of state Sen. Jennie Robak,
started out as Gov. Nelson’s legal
counsel and chief of staff following
his election m 1991.
In 1993 she moved to the office of
lieutenant governor to replace
Maxine Moul, who became the direc
tor of the Department of Economic
“I decided it was an opportunity I
couldn't pass up,” Robak said.
In 1994, Robak was elected along
with Nelson in a landslide victory.
The duties of the lieutenant gover
nor are not numerous: preside over the
Legislature, act as governor when the
governor is absent or the position is
vacant and perform duties designated
by the governor.
Speaker of the Legislature Doug
Kristensen said Robak demonstrated
patience and level-headedness while
watching over the legislative process.
“She knew the rules very well and
had a blind-justice approach,”
“She was very patient, and she
always maintained a cool head no
matter how hot the battle.”
However, Kristensen said profes
sionalism was not what made her pos
sibly the most well-known lieutenant
governor, but rather her help in solv
ing statewide and national problems.
Robak said it was really Nelson’s
assignments that gave her an active
role in the legislative process and in
Since 1992, Robak has worked
with teams that developed improve
ment plans for health care and private
insurance, and she was a member of a
commission focused on developing
and integrating information technolo
gy in the state.
But Robak said her favorite part
of the job has been traveling across
the state and meeting people.
The low pomt of her involvement
with the past administration came
during Nelson’s 1996 bid for a U.S.
Nelson opponents pointed out
that if Nelson were sent to
Washington, Nebraska would remain
with Robak as governor for two years.
“I became an issue,” Robak said.
“And it was a difficult position to be in
because it wasn’t my race.
“I didn't want to defend myself
and nsk the Senate race for (Nelson),”
Robak said she does not regret
passing up a run for governor in 1998
and is not certain about running in
She said she is excited to join the
University of Nebraska central
administration in January as vice
president for external affairs and cor
porate secretary to the NU Board of
Kristensen said the Legislature
will remember Robak as a person
who viewed her position as more than
just a job.
“I really think (Robak) enjoyed
being the lieutenant governor, and I
think it’s because she cares,” he said.
“Kim loved what she did and had
a perspective of where it all fit in.”
observers say Nelson’s suc
cess lies in his hard work,
dedication and commitment
to citizens’ well-being.
Wesely said Nelson’s
and down-to-earth character
made him a leader compara
ble to former President
Dwight D. Eisenhower.
“When I think of Gov.
Nelson, I think solid,” he
Landis said Nelson was a
strong leader who had charis
“He’s been a fine gover
nor, and he will have a record
second to none,” he said. “He
allows himself to be self-dep
recating, and he was a good
sport, which gave him a
human side and an approach
ability that was unique.”
Bob bittig, a political sci
ence professor at UNL, said
Nelson was similar to most
post-World War II Nebraska
governors in that his primary
role was as a caretaker more
than an innovator.
implementation of a state lot
tery to help fund education
and his supervision of the
reorganization of the state’s
health and human services
system were significant, he
For the most part, howev
er, Nelson will be remem
bered more for his day-to-day
management of state govern
ment than for reinventing it,
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10th Amendment, which limits the scope of the
federal government’s powers. Nelson wanted to
see more power devolved to the states - a mes
sage he could use again in a future senatorial bid.
Nelson said he takes some comfort in know
ing many Nebraskans voted for Hagel because
they were happy with Nelson’s performance as
governor and wanted to keep him in Nebraska.
“The most important thing is that I never
wanted not to finish out my term,” he said. “You
might say I got distracted by the Senate, and
that’s undoubtedly true, but the distraction was
not because I didn’t like what 1 was doing here.”
Though a chance at a Senate seat slipped
through Nelson’s hands in 1996, the Democratic
governor has not ruled out another bid in 2000.
The seat could come open if Sen. Bob Kerrey
decides to run for president, a likely scenario.
Nelson won’t even rule out running as a
hvery time i say 1 aon t Know, 1 irritate ootn
Democrats and Republicans,” Nelson said. “I
don’t mean to irritate anybody.
“But rather than making some statement that
1 have to live with later - like a pledge - I’ve said
I haven’t resolved any of those issues.”
As for now, Nelson plans to return to work at
Kennedy, Holland, Delacy and Svoboda, an
Omaha law firm.
Nelson said being governor had given him a
perspective on the “big picture,” or the way that
diverse issues and interests in the state interrelate.
“I know that you can cut spending, but you
don’t have to cut hope; that you can balance
interests if you’re willing to make the difficult
decisions,” he said.
“And perhaps the one thing people will think
about is that I haven’t set out to be all things to all
people but tried to do what I think is right in the
fundamental areas of education, economic
development and the environment.
“I hope that’s what the people remember -
perhaps most of all that I really cared about the
people of the state of Nebraska.”
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