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Nebraska Legislature has biggest share of millennials in U.S., survey says

Nebraska Legislature has biggest share of millennials in U.S., survey says

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Millennials make up a bigger share of the Nebraska Legislature than any other state legislature in the U.S., according to a recent survey.

People born in 1980 or later who entered adulthood at the turn of the century are considered millennials, and Nebraska had eight such senators last year.

Nebraska's 16 percent millennial membership ranks higher than any other state, according to the survey done last year by Pew Charitable Trusts and the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha brought that number down to seven members when he resigned to become Congressman Brad Ashford's chief of staff, but Nebraska still leads the nation in a tie with Maine.

"Nobody's Snapchatted me yet," said 27-year-old Matt Hansen of Lincoln, Nebraska's youngest state senator.

(And if you don't know what Snapchat is, ask your kids, your kids' kids or Sen. Hansen.)

Age does factor into the way senators communicate and the experiences they bring to the job. Hansen, for example, was graduating from college and looking for work during the most recent economic downturn.

"I think it's really important to have diverse perspectives," he said.

Omaha Sen. Brett Lindstrom, a 34-year-old father of two, said he was surprised to be considered a millennial and shocked that Nebraska ranked atop the list.

"Nebraska's a pretty conservative state," he said. "Maybe we're a tight enough community that people who are younger feel engaged in the political process."

Young senators tend to be from near Lincoln and Omaha, where quicker drives to the Capitol make it easier for them to balance lawmaking with family and work. Lindstrom, a financial adviser, said sharing clients with his father helps free up time during the legislative session.

Former Lincoln Mayor Don Wesely, who went into the Legislature at 24 and spent two decades as a senator, said young senators "bring an energy to the body."

The youngest senator each session is traditionally subjected to a bit of legislative hazing: He or she is named enrollment and review chairman, responsible for taking procedural steps necessary for legislative revisers to adopt amendments into a bill and review it for technical and grammatical accuracy.

Wesely keeps a list of those past "E&R" chairmen, and said some went on to become lieutenant governors, congressmen, even governor. Wesely and Roland Luedtke stand out as former Lincoln mayors. Jon Bruning was E&R chairman in 1997 before becoming attorney general in 2003. Congressman Adrian Smith held the post after that.

That doesn't mean every young senator is chasing higher political aspirations, Wesely said.

"I don't think a lot of people see it as a stepping stone."

But that changes for some once they get a taste of public life.

"Now you've done that, and you think about other opportunities," Wesely said.

Lindstrom noted many younger senators already have taken leadership roles within the Legislature. Two standing committee chairmen were born after 1980, and Omaha Sen. Heath Mello, head of the budget-building Appropriations Committee, missed being called a millennial by just a few months.

"I feel like everybody's on the same playing field," Lindstrom said. "Everybody's treated with respect. It really doesn't matter what age you are."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7234 or On Twitter @zachamiLJS.


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