Take a boy, isolated on an eastern Nebraska farm in the 1950s and '60s, with plenty of time to think during chores of weeding cockleburs, milking and herding.

Entertain him at night with TV shows like "The Outer Limits," "Lost in Space," "The Jetsons," "My Favorite Martian," "Star Trek."

What you get is -- in this particular case -- a state senator with a vision for Nebraska 20, 50, even 200 years into the future.

What Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus, who just completed his third session in the Legislature, does best is interface well with the future.

The Legislature, in his view, is not so forward looking.

"I think it's highly reactive," he said. "I think there's so much potential here, but so little of it gets used."

And that's true for the whole state, he said, which is far more dedicated to preserving the past than experiencing the future.

It takes a consensus of 25 people in the Legislature to pass laws and resolutions and budgets.

"You can make a law. You can allocate some tax money. That doesn't ignite the future," Schumacher said.

The idea that the Legislature could fiddle with the tax rates by 1 or 2 or 3 percent, and suddenly young people would come streaming into the state, or not want to leave, is "sheer foolishness," he said.

* * *

Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers has bestowed the title of "professor" on Schumacher.

"He's a very bright person," Chambers said. "He's personable. He gives that 'ah, shucks' approach."

He can take a difficult issue and make people understand.

"That's when you know how good he is at explaining, 'cause you understand. And he does it in a way that is helpful in our proceedings," Chambers said.

Several senators have compared him to the late Sen. Ron Raikes, who farmed near Ashland, served 11 years in the Legislature and left because of term limits.

Raikes was a key player in multiple education issues and described as a big thinker with deep intelligence, and highly respected.

Schumacher, a member of the Legislature's Revenue; Banking, Commerce and Insurance; Rules; and Planning committees, started out as the Platte County attorney.

He is part owner in a rural wireless provider and a community keno operation.

When he was applying for a job during law school with Nebraska Sen. Carl Curtis, he called himself a "Nixon Republican." Now, he says he doesn't like labels of conservative, liberal, moderate.

"Those labels are totally worthless," he said. "I think you've got to be adaptable. I'm an adaptabilist."

* * *

Schumacher grew up the oldest of six on a farm between Tarnov, a Polish community, and Cornlea, a German community, the fields between Columbus and Norfolk. The kids generally got to town only for school and church.

So, he had plenty of time to dream, and to think the future had to be better than where he was at the time.

"Basically I dreamed up my own theories of how things should work, just the general philosophies of things, and most of them were keyed on living 20 years in the future," he said.

His dad farmed and dabbled in repairing and reselling used farm equipment. His mom took care of the homestead. Neither had more than an eighth-grade education.

Schumacher attended Platte College in Columbus and then Fort Hays State University in Kansas. He was headed for medical school -- but not too happy about having to dissect a cat in comparative anatomy -- when he ran into a classmate who told him he should take the LSAT, Law School Admission Test, just for the heck of it.

"I had nothing better to do on a Saturday morning, so I figured why not take it, just for the heck of it," he said.

He paid his $20, did "extremely well," and the prelaw professor, who had never seen him before, told him he could probably get into any law school he wanted.

Schumacher ended up at Georgetown University law school, and worked for Curtis a couple of years to help pay for it. He met his wife, Michele, there.

Back in Nebraska, while helping Curtis with a campaign, he ran for Platte County attorney, to get a little name recognition so he could establish a law practice. He won the election and spent the next eight years at that job. 

Although Schumacher dabbled in computers in his 20s, even exhibiting a "raw, early vintage Twitter kind of thing" at the Nebraska State Fair in 1978, he doesn't participate in social media now. Email is about the extent of his social technology.

"I think we're going to find ourselves having given up way too much in privacy and way too much in things to be misconstrued about ourselves by putting so much online," he said.

Online social interaction like Twitter and Facebook probably promotes average rather than innovative thinking, he believes. 

"It shapes your thinking toward everybody else's thinking," Schumacher said. "And it's pretty clear in this world everybody else doesn't have the greatest ideas, or we'd be in better shape."

But he and a partner formed one of the state's first internet companies, Megavision Inc., bringing Web and email servers to small, rural communities.

Schumacher also has an interest in Community Lottery Systems, which operates keno games in about 100 communities. It fired up in 1990.

"We have about 10 percent of the market in a bunch of little towns, and we've made about $30 million for these little towns ... we've processed about $300 million in sales," he said.

Those towns and villages use the money for community betterment projects -- fixing the roof on the local library, paving a street, putting in a water project.

"It's been a highly successful little venture, and also it's done a lot of public good," he said.

As such, he's been criticized by anti-gambling folks for introducing "self-serving" pro-gambling bills.

* * *

Schumacher has an idea he believes would move western Nebraska forward in the next 200 years. The future of the western end of the state is not in hanging on to its small towns. It's like a bathtub out there, draining to the east -- gradually depopulating. 

There's a huge future for western Nebraska, but that's not it, he said.

A rapid plume of population is moving from Denver north toward Cheyenne, Wyo. What if that plume could be dragged to the east with an imaginatively designed city at the I-80 and I-76 intersection, connected by high speed rail to Denver International Airport?

It would be close to Lake McConaughy, close to a gigawatt of power generation at the Gerald Gentleman Station near Sutherland, in the middle of excellent fiber optic capabilities, he said. 

"That suddenly becomes a 200-year-from-now future for western Nebraska."

* * *

Schumacher does his best thinking when he's in motion -- on a tractor, in a vehicle, on an airplane.

"I think you're in a slightly out-of-sync reference point, kind of an Einsteinian thing where your time is just slightly different than the time around you."

He isn't the type to burden himself with stress. But he describes himself as a workaholic.

"Why would one stress? What's there to worry about?" he said. "I've made a little money. I've learned not to say, 'This is so important that it's worth aggravating yourself over.'

"I pretty much work all the time, so I don't have time to think about such things."

He does't find the Legislature stressful.

"Remember the holodeck (a simulated reality facility) on Star Trek?" he said. "This is just a holodeck. It's a program and it's very real. And it's very interactive. But it's just a holodeck."

What would Schumacher like to be good at that he hasn't yet mastered? 

"I suppose interpersonal relations. ... I'm kind of a loner."

But since he likes being a loner, he admits, maybe that doesn't count.

Reach JoAnne Young at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com -- You can follow JoAnne's tweets at twitter.com/ljslegislature.