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Bill Barrett

Former Speaker Bill Barrett (right) talks with Sen. Dennis Baack of Kimball in the legislative chamber in this January 1988 file photo. Barrett died on Tuesday in Lexington, his hometown.

Longtime Nebraska politician Bill Barrett, who helped shape the nation's farm policy during his 10 years in Congress, died Tuesday night at 87.

The conservative Republican was known for seeking consensus and compromise during the decade he represented the western two-thirds of Nebraska in the state's 3rd Congressional District.

Tami Reynolds of Reynolds-Love Funeral Home in Lexington said Barrett died at an assisted living facility in Lexington, his hometown.

Barrett was outspoken on farm issues and helped write the Freedom to Farm Act in 1996 that limited farm subsidies. He also tried to keep the federal government out of local water rights issues.

He served in the U.S. House from 1991 through 2000. Before that, he spent 12 years in the Nebraska Legislature, his final four as speaker.

Nebraska Republican officeholders praised Barrett's service on Wednesday.

Rep. Adrian Smith of Gering, who now represents the 3rd District, said Barrett was "known for being true to his word and bringing people together to get things done."

His dedication to the district and to the state "set a lasting example for me and all who have sought to fill his shoes," Smith said.

Gov. Pete Ricketts said Barrett "built a reputation as a legislator who put Nebraska first during his service to our state in the Unicameral and in the U.S. Congress."

Sen. Deb Fischer described Barrett as "a kind, positive man who was well-liked by those who served with him."

Sen. Ben Sasse said all Nebraskans are "profoundly grateful for his life's example of hard work and public service."

Nebraska Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson saluted Barrett as "a solid voice for Nebraska's farm and ranch families in Washington, especially on major policy issues such as trade, regulatory overreach and tax issues, as well as work on farm bill legislation."

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Former U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey, a Nebraska Democrat, said Barrett succeeded in politics the right way: by building relationships and seeking to understand other people's point of view even when he disagreed.

"He had a phenomenal attitude about life," Kerrey said. "He was always considerate even when someone had a different point of view."

In addition to serving in Congress together, Kerrey worked with Barrett to balance Nebraska's budget when Kerrey was governor and Barrett was speaker of the Legislature.

Barrett graduated from Hastings College in 1951 with a bachelor's degree in business administration. After college, he served in the Navy during the Korean War.

He then worked in the admissions office at Hastings College before returning to Lexington in 1956 to join his family's general insurance, real estate brokerage and appraising firm, Barrett-Housel & Associates. When he retired from politics, he returned to Lexington.

He also served on the Republican National Committee during the 1960s, campaigned for Gerald Ford in the state in 1976 and served as state GOP chairman.


Political reporter

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

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