Eric Burling grew up in Lincoln, met his wife here, started a business here and — for most of that time — paid very little attention to politics and the news.
That changed in the last year — blame it on having more time at home because of a pandemic — and he didn’t like what he saw.
“I don’t like the direction that I think the country is going right now,” he said. “I think it’s going too far to the left. I’m very conservative.”
At first, he said, he was bothered by what he sees as unreasonable “cancel culture” epitomized by tearing down monuments of American history. More than 100 Confederate symbols were removed across the country last year.
“I don’t understand that,” he said. “I support people wanting to talk about those issues, but I don’t think we tear down history.”
Concerns about the direction the country is heading nationally, he said, made him look locally, and he said he worries Lincoln will follow that same path. The Democratic majority on the City Council, he said, isn’t a fair representation of the city.
“I felt like there’s an opportunity there for me to run and make a difference in the city I love,” he said.
He was born in that city 36 years ago, grew up in Bishop Heights, hung out at a nearby Dairy Queen in the summers and played in the nearby park and attended Rousseau Elementary School.
At Southeast High School, he played football until his senior year and — something that had more long-term impact — was good at math. And, probably because math came easy to him, he was bored in his high school calculus class and spent a fair amount of time teaching himself coding on his graphing calculator.
“That’s kind of what got me started,” he said. “I thought ‘This is a lot of fun and I think I’m good at it,' and I decided that’s what I would study (in college).”
He started out studying computer engineering but switched to computer science. After graduation he started working at a startup that created online high school courses.
After Burling had been there seven years, the company was bought out by a larger company that ultimately shut its Lincoln office, but by that time, Burling had moved on.
Through mutual friends, he’d met a young woman from Vietnam who’d come to Nebraska to get her master’s degree in industrial engineering. Her story — how she chose to come to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the lack of support she had once she got here — convinced the two to start an education consulting business, he said.
Burling said his future wife and her mother chose the university by researching the safest cities in America. Lincoln came up on the list, so she came here.
She had planned to return to Vietnam after she earned her degree, but the business partners ended up getting married.
Her parents had connections to the best schools there, and they worked with students who wanted to study in the United States, hosting events in Vietnam for prospective students. Eventually, they began working with younger students who wanted to come to boarding schools in America.
The business meant that Burling began traveling extensively. That has largely come to a halt since the pandemic, though not before he got sick in while in Vietnam. It was early in the pandemic and he wasn’t tested, he said, but he’s sure that’s what he had.
“It was the most sick I’ve ever been in my life.”
He recovered and returned home — three days before his second child was born.
For the last year, he and his wife have largely been teaching Vietnamese students online, he said, and he teaches math, physics, economics and computer science.
Burling also owns rental property, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. Growing up, he’d help them remodel and update duplexes and apartments.
“That kind of got me interested in owning (property) myself,” he said.
Now, he’s hoping to be a City Council member. He knows he doesn’t have as much experience as the other candidates, but he’s interested in finding ways to lower property taxes, support public safety and make local government more transparent, especially by making documents more easily accessible online.
He thinks he would offer a new perspective.
“If we want our City Council to represent the city, it’s important to represent everyone in the city.”
Watch Now: Voter's Guide for the Lincoln city general election on May 4
The Lincoln Journal Star posed questions for candidates on the May 4 general election ballot. Read the responses and watch the videos from Lincoln City Council, Lincoln Board of Education and Lincoln Airport Authority candidates.
Learn about the candidates' positions on the issues before voting in the May 4 general election.
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