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Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha, a young progressive voice in the Legislature for seven years, announced Wednesday evening he will resign as a state senator on June 30 to become chief-of-staff for Democratic Rep. Brad Ashford.

Nordquist, 33, one of 13 Democrats in the nonpartisan Legislature, will leave with a year and a half remaining in his second and final term, opening the way for Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts to name his successor.

Voters in the predominantly Democratic 7th District, which spreads across South Omaha and through downtown Omaha, will elect a senator to a four-year term in 2016.

Nordquist's departure opens a seat on the budget-writing Appropriations Committee that will be filled with an appointment by the Legislature's Executive Board. 

The newly appointed committee member must represent a legislative district within the metropolitan Omaha congressional district, maintaining geographical balance on the committee.

Leaving "an institution I really love" was not an easy decision, Nordquist said during an interview in his Capitol office on the day before his announcement. 

"I love the thoughtful debate about critical issues that occurs in this unique institution," he said, but the opportunity to work for "a thoughtful policymaker" like Ashford on issues important to Nebraska and the nation appealed to him.

"I enjoy the occasional political wrestling matches in the Legislature," Nordquist said, "but I am much more a policy wonk."

Ashford, who was elected in 2014 to represent the 2nd District in the House, is a former legislative colleague who served with Nordquist in Lincoln. The congressman will seek his second term in 2016.

Nordquist led the way this year to passage of a bill that removes Nebraska's ban on issuing driver's licenses to the children of immigrants who settled illegally in the United States. 

That measure, which faces a possible gubernatorial veto, would end Nebraska's status as the only state that denies licenses even though President Obama has given those young people legal protection to remain here with his 2012 DACA (deferred action for childhood arrivals) executive order. 

Last year, Nordquist led a successful initiative petition drive to increase the state's minimum wage rate to $9 an hour. That act has raised wages, either directly or indirectly, for an estimated 140,000 Nebraskans, he said.

As a member of the Appropriations Committee, Nordquist advocated for more direct property tax relief for homeowners and increased funding for early childhood education, health centers and higher education.

He also has been chairman of the Retirement Systems Committee. 

"Jeremy has been a champion for working families, as well as my counselor and confidant," Appropriations Chairman Heath Mello of Omaha said.

"My best friend is leaving the Legislature early and, although I will miss him, I am thrilled for him and his family," Mello said.

"Such bittersweet news," Health and Human Services Committee Chairwoman Kathy Campbell of Lincoln said.

"I'm excited for Jeremy and his family, but I will so miss his advice, friendship and great sense of humor. 

"He has been my partner on so many issues dealing with children, families, people in poverty, Medicaid expansion. He has always been a great advocate for people who don't have a voice."

Nordquist first came to the State Capitol as a legislative staff member when he was 23. He was elected to his first term as a senator at the age of 26 and re-elected in 2012 with about 70 percent of the vote.

His legislative district includes the heart of South Omaha, which is almost 50 percent Latino today, and older eastern European immigrant neighborhoods in the city along with downtown condo dwellers and Fortune 500 headquarters.

Former Sen. John Synowiecki, a Democrat whom Nordquist succeeded in 2009, has announced his candidacy for the legislative seat in 2016.

"I will encourage him to submit his name" to Ricketts as a possible appointee, Nordquist said, notwithstanding his party identification. 

"I don't think District 7 will elect anyone who does not have progressive values," he said. 

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSDon.

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Political reporter

Don Walton, a Husker and Yankee fan, is a longtime Journal Star political and government reporter.

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