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Roger Wehrbein

Marian Price hasn’t been a state senator since 2006, but she  still gets calls from people who don’t know she’s left the elected job.

Same with Jim Cudaback.

For awhile, said Cudaback of Riverdale, he couldn’t bring himself to tell callers he no longer was a senator.

“People just want to be listened to,” he reasoned.

Twenty senators left office shortly before the 2007 session   because of term limits. Another 15 will leave before the 2009 session begins.

According to 10 of those who have been out of office for two sessions, there is life after the Legislature.

And it can be busy. 

Although some miss being a state senator like crazy, there appears to be plenty of other public service, work and adventure to go around.

Elaine Stuhr, of Bradshaw, recently returned from a trip to Rome, Florence and Venice with her husband and grandson. Last fall, they took a cruise through the Panama Canal.

And she’s recovering from tripping over a rug in her house, which broke her kneecap.

Stuhr served District 24 for 12 years, a better length of time than the eight years to which senators are limited now, she said. Greg Adams was elected to replace her. 

Since she left the Legislature, Stuhr is involved in church and community activities — she’s once again chairwoman of the Nebraska Hand Cornhusking Contest that will take place in October — and recently was appointed to the Nebraska Retirement Systems Board.

She keeps track of what’s going on in the Legislature, she said, and tries not to get in the way. But she misses the challenges of debate and the people she worked with at the Capitol.

Roger Wehrbein of Plattsmouth represented District 2 for 20 years. Dave Pankonin of Louisville replaced him, and now Wehrbein keeps busy on his farm,   working on boards and commissions, in agribusiness organizations and economic development for Cass County.

He hadn’t planned on a lot of the busyness that came his way  — like working on the Plattsmouth Bridge Commission or a new university fraternity house for Alpha Gamma Rho. But he jumped in, nonetheless.

He’s not lobbying, but will offer advice if asked, he said.

It was hard to walk away from the Legislature.

“But that intense part of my life is over,” he said.

Price served north Lincoln’s District 26 eight years.  Amanda McGill replaced her.

“The first session, it was really painful to be down there,” Price  said.

It wasn’t her choice to leave, and she said she had a lot of “pent-up emotion.”

By the second session, she was at the Capitol about three times a week, attending hearings, visiting with people and watching senators work.

“My heart is still there,” she said.

Watching the “new shining stars” was interesting, she said.

“I was quite impressed with Sen. (Tom) White. Bill Avery is such a strong voice of reason. Tom Carlson has such a gentle way, and he is well versed on water.”

She also watched the passion of the second large batch of term-limited senators. She saw a desperation, a sense of urgency to get  bills through.

Since leaving, she has advocated for issues she believes in by visiting with her senator, e-mailing, going to hearings, speaking to groups.

Price also attends Lincoln Board of Education meetings, volunteers for the Red Cross and is active in her church and community organizations.

She has been encouraged to seek other political offices, she said.

“I watch and wait,” she said. “Serving in elected office is a great, great adventure.”

Kermit Brashear represented District 4 in Omaha for 12 years and served as speaker in 2005 and 2006. Pete Pirsch now holds the seat.

Brashear, a full-time lawyer who also lobbies, still has influence on issues that face the Legislature. 

“I make myself available, and they’re kind enough to want my opinions,” he said.

He also continues as chairman  of the state Community Corrections Council.

It took him a little while to adjust to his new role outside the Legislature, he said. But he’s enjoying it.

After family and his faith, politics has been his life, he said.

But he knows a person can lose perspective if he or she doesn’t have a life outside the Legislature.

Pam Brown, who served District 6 in Omaha for 12 years, consults and volunteers. John Nelson took her seat. 

Brown works on public policy for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. She’s on the boards of the Women's Fund of Greater Omaha and the Charles Drew Health Center.

She misses the Legislature — at least the one she left, she said, like missing the playground where you used to play. But if you went back to a playground with a new set of kids, it wouldn’t be the same.

She follows issues that interest her, but doesn’t watch the Legislature on TV. She calls it “the Legislature for shut-ins.”

She stays in touch socially with senators who left at the same time, such as Jim Jensen of Omaha and Don Pedersen of North Platte.

“We talk about how we would do things,” she said, chuckling.

Life after the Legislature is good, she has learned.

“And it’s better by virtue of having had this experience and knowing I can affect things going on in the state,” she said.

Cudaback has replaced his seat in the Legislature for one at the piano, playing at Kearney’s Good Samaritan Hospital and at dances three or four times a week.

He also visits the Legislature four or five times during the sessions for meetings, receptions and the like. 

Cudaback served Riverdale and District 36 for 16 years. Now Lexington resident John Wightman has the seat.

The first session out of the Legislature was a “tough four or five months,” he said. “I had withdrawal.”

Gov. Dave Heineman was good enough to appoint him to the Capitol Commission, he said.

“What’s more important than our Capitol?” he said.

Cudaback misses the contact with his constituents, trying to help them out.

He’s the clerk of the town of Riverdale. He also mows. But he misses his role as senator. And the camaraderie. And knowing what’s going on in the state.

“I’m out of the loop,” he said.

“There was no closure. I feel like I got kicked out. It’s a funny feeling.”

Ed Schrock, of Elm Creek, was busy last week replanting soybeans after hail beat them down.

The District 38 senator served 14 years before term limits called his service to a halt. Tom Carlson represents the district now.

In addition to farming, Schrock serves on the Nebraska Public Power District board and on advisory committees.

And he has six grandkids.

He wasn’t planning to run again, so he’s not lamenting his leaving. 

“I’ve followed it a little. But it’s out of sight, out of mind,” Schrock said. “I’m enjoying the freedom.”

Tom Baker of Trenton is back into agriculture, both the hands- on farming and the operations side. He also still has his truck stop and convenience store.

Baker served District 44 eight years and was replaced by Mark Christensen, one term sooner than he would have liked.

He misses the Legislature a lot, he said.

“I see some of the things going on down there, see them undoing what we saw as solutions,” he said.

One of his bills that covered railroad crossings was on the way to being gutted, he said, and he had to go to Lincoln and play some defense.

He’s in Lincoln at least once a month, and sees other former senators who have been appointed to boards and commissions.

Matt Connealy of Decatur  went from his nonpartisan office serving District 16 back to partisan politics as executive director of the Nebraska Democratic Party.

“I do like the legislative process. I really enjoyed being a state senator,” he said. “I miss it. But I really like this job.”

He liked being able to affect people’s lives with good policy, he said. Affecting lives and guiding the direction of the state was a rewarding experience.

Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler left the Legislature after 23 years and was elected mayor four months later, switching from the lawmaking to the executive branch. 

He is enjoying his role in city government, he said.

Beutler still follows legislative issues  — especially those involving Lincoln — but said he is starting to lose track of the details of the legislative process.

His personal lifestyle has changed a great deal from what it was. It was intense for the several months the Legislature was in session and then lighter in the interim.

Mayoral duties are year round.

His sense of privacy also changed.

Looking back, he felt anonymous as a state senator, he said. Now, people identify him everywhere he goes in town and many want to have a word or two with him.

He also has a lot more evening activities now, part of his ceremonial  mission to thank people for what they do for the city. 

One thing he really misses since leaving the Legislature is the Capitol building itself. It is an “incredibly beautiful” building, he said, and a great environment in which to work.

Reach JoAnne Young at 473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com.

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