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Council candidate Bowers grew from volunteer work with aim to help others

Council candidate Bowers grew from volunteer work with aim to help others


Democrat James Michael Bowers, 30, is a middle-school social worker and runs a counseling business. He's running for the District 1 City Council seat held by Cyndi Lamm, a Republican running for mayor. He'll have a rematch in the May 7 general election against Taylor Wyatt. Reporter Nancy Hicks interviewed Bowers after his narrow primary victory.

Occupation: School social worker and owner of Havelock Psychotherapy.

What’s in a name: James Michael Bowers is using all his names in his campaign because people know him by different names.

It was a family tradition to use your middle name. So, like his dad, Bowers went by his middle name or nickname, Mick or Mike.

Then, when he was older, he began using his first name.

Family members call him Mick. People who worked with him at Burger King know him as Mike. But many friends call him James. And he answers to all of them.

Childhood: In high school, Bowers had a job at Burger King and played violin in the Northeast orchestra, but “I wasn’t the best student.”

It wasn’t until he began volunteering at the Northeast Family Center that he found his passion.

He began working as a volunteer with the food-distribution program to meet the 20 hours of community service required for graduation.

But he enjoyed the volunteer work, excited to help families “who were just like ours.” It felt like he was serving a real purpose, so he continued volunteering. He eventually got a job at the center and later was asked to join its board of directors, providing a youth perspective.

That experience was both “intimidating and really helpful.” Bowers met Marian Price, the state senator from that area, and Kathy Danek, a school board member, who “took me under their wing."

“They were good role models, being a teenager, on how to talk and work with people.”

Bowers was raised by a single mom who worked two jobs and maintained a stable environment after his parents divorced when he was 9, and his father died when he was 13.

His mother insisted Bowers and his younger brother go to school, just as she went to work.  

“My mom really provided that stability, that strength that allowed us to find peace and acceptance and move on.”

Defining moments: When the state was privatizing child welfare services, Bowers worked for Visinet, a private agency. But the privatization experiment “was a disaster,” and Visinet filed for bankruptcy.

Bowers and other employees learned they were losing their jobs that day through a morning email, with no guarantee of pay.

Not only were Bowers’ career plans waylaid, but the children he served were at risk of not getting services and foster parents were at risk of not getting paid.

That experience prompted him to look into politics, to do more than participate in a rally at the state Capitol. “Instead of talking to these people, why don’t I become one of them?” he thought.

He ran for the Nebraska Legislature, but lost, in 2014.

In his work, Bowers once had to drive a teenager, who was 19 and had aged out of state services, to the City Mission. That was the teen’s transition plan — from state services to no services.

“That was not a good transition. That stuck with me. That made me realize the foster care system needs improvement. No one should be taken to a homeless shelter on their 18th birthday.”

And he did participate in the work that led to more extended support services.

Partisanship: Though both parties have something to offer, Bowers says, he was drawn to the Democrats because of their message of inclusiveness.

“I grew up gay.” And he saw in the Democrats elected officials who stood up for the LGBT community.

"Everyone’s life is messy. Everyone has things they go through. It seemed to me that Democrats recognized this and wanted to make sure services are available so everyone can reach their potential."

Family: Bowers is single, but he does have a 13-year-old basset hound, Betsy, who is his most ardent supporter and who patiently sleeps while he campaigns door-to-door. 

Role of government: Government should be about making sure we are safe and making sure there are opportunities to be successful and to live our best life.

Why vote for me: “I’m from northeast Lincoln. I’ve lived in northeast Lincoln all my life. I work in northeast Lincoln. I’m going to be a strong voice for northeast Lincoln.

"We need to reinvest in northeast Lincoln. Northeast Lincoln is getting left behind. I will make sure northeast Lincoln gets its fair share.”

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Nancy Hicks reports on Lincoln city government, but she’s been following the leaders of local and state government for more than 40 years.

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