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Former senator hopes book helps children understand Nebraska's unicameral legislature

Former senator hopes book helps children understand Nebraska's unicameral legislature

LINCOLN — Shortly after giving birth to her first child, former State Sen. Amanda McGill Johnson was surprised that she couldn’t find a children’s book about the unique one-house unicameral Legislature where she once served.

There were books about the U.S. Congress, explaining in kid terms what happens in Washington, D.C. But nothing about Nebraska’s one-of-a-kind departure from the traditional two-house legislatures that have a House and a Senate.

“Nowadays, there seems to be a book for everything,” she said.

Three-and-a-half years and a second child later, McGill Johnson has finished a children’s book about the Nebraska Legislature.

“The Unicameral and You: Collaborating for the Common Good in Nebraska’s Capitol,” is a 34-page primer on how things get done in the statehouse. It’s told through the eyes of two schoolkids as they tour the artistic and historic State Capitol and meet a state senator.

McGill Johnson, now 40, married and the mother of two young children, said she often met with schoolchildren as they toured the Capitol when she served in the Legislature. She now serves on the Millard school board and works as executive director of the nonprofit group Nebraska Coalition for Lifesaving Cures, which advocates for continued stem-cell research in the state. She said she hopes her book teaches youngsters something about leadership and working together.

You have to be willing to compromise, McGill Johnson said, but also able to accept a temporary setback and keep working to get an idea or bill approved.

“I think the message that government is there to bring different ideas to the table and work together is an important one,” she said. “We’re all there for the right reasons, even though we might have different approaches.”

McGill Johnson served eight years in the Legislature after being elected in 2006. She was among the first group of state senators elected following the imposition of term limits, which disqualified incumbents from running for a third four-year term. McGill Johnson dedicated the book to the 20 other legislators elected that year.

One line in the book might appear to be a statement about the current state of the Legislature: “The best senators know how to disagree and even fight, without getting mean or nasty to each other.”

But she said that society in general, not just state lawmakers and other politicians, is more partisan and polarized these days.

“Hopefully there’s a shift to more civility, and not just among our elected officials,” McGill Johnson said.

It is the first book for the one-time television reporter, and is illustrated by Omaha artist Paula Wallace, whose watercolors capture the beauty of the Capitol. The 15-story high-rise is a National Historic Landmark and considered an architectural masterpiece. Stone carvings, mosaics and murals inside and on the exterior of the limestone structure tell the story of the state and the history of democracy.

The former senator said she consulted with some teachers to make sure the book was as educational and relatable as possible to children like her two boys, Po, 3½, and Han, 2.

“It’s about relating to children the characteristics you need to be a successful leader,” McGill Johnson said.

The book, which costs $11.95 in paperback and $19.95 in hardback, is available through Amazon and, she said, will soon be on the shelves at The Bookworm in Omaha and the gift shop at the Capitol.

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Reporter - Regional/state issues

Paul covers state government and affiliated issues. He specializes in tax and transportation issues, following the governor and the state prison system. Follow him on Twitter @PaulHammelOWH. Phone: 402-473-9584.

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