The World-Herald’s Statehouse reporters round up news highlights from the Legislature and state government into the Capitol Digest — a daily briefing for the political newshound with a busy schedule.
LINCOLN — Former State Sen. Elroy Hefner of Coleridge — one of the conservatives dubbed “Thone Clones” — was being remembered Thursday as a caring and considerate legislator.
Hefner, who represented his northeast Nebraska district from 1976 to 1993, died Sunday at his home from apparent natural causes. He was 96.
His oldest son, Bill, said that his father “liked to help people.”
He said he once left the dinner table on Sunday to take a phone call from a constituent and talked issues for a half-hour.
Veteran lobbyist Walt Radcliffe said that his clients didn’t often agree with Hefner’s conservative stances. But the senator, he said, was “approachable” and “truly a gentleman to work with.”
“There was never anything that was mean-spirited about him,” Radcliffe said.
Hefner, a Republican, was one of a group of conservative senators who were called the “Thone Clones” because their views aligned well with then-Gov. Charley Thone, who was governor from 1979 to 1983.
Hefner was a civic leader in Coleridge, a farm town 42 miles northeast of Norfolk, taking on many roles, including mayor. After serving in World War II, he started Hefner Oil and Feed in Coleridge, an endeavor that eventually grew to include truck stops in Sioux City and at 108th and L Streets in Omaha.
Even after he retired from the Legislature, Hefner continued to write letters to the editor in support of the death penalty and to urge state legislators to do something about high property taxes.
On Thursday, Creighton Sen. Tim Gragert introduced a legislative resolution honoring Hefner for his service and commitment. Hefner is survived by his wife, Carol, and children, Bill of Coleridge and Cindy Brennan of Papillion. He was preceded in death by a son, Doug.
Indigenous Peoples’ Day
State Sen. Mike Groene lost a last-minute bid to scuttle a compromise bill that makes Oct. 12 a shared holiday in Nebraska — Columbus Day as well as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
Groene got only six votes for his amendment — 19 short of what’s needed — that would have dropped Indigenous Peoples’ Day out of the bill as a holiday. He said that making the two events “share” a holiday watered down the contributions of Christoper Columbus, who discovered the New World, and was more about demeaning Columbus than honoring Native Americans. State statutes, he added, already designate a Native Americans Day on the last Monday in September.
The North Platte senator also questioned the use of the term “indigenous,” saying that since he was born in the U.S., he’s also native to the country and “indigenous.”
Gordon Sen. Tom Brewer, who is a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, acknowledged that “Native American” is a more common description than “indigenous.” But he also defended the shared holiday, saying that Italian Americans and Native Americans at a legislative hearing earlier this year were surprisingly OK with it.
Legislative Bill 848, which designates the shared holiday, is the priority bill of Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks. She and Groene have spatted during the Legislature’s summer session.
Dozens of cities, including Lincoln, and at least 11 states, including South Dakota and Iowa, have declared the second Monday in October is Native American Day or Indigenous Peoples’ Day rather than Columbus Day.
LB 848 was amended as a joint holiday after a committee hearing in February.
Nebraska's 49 state senators
Patty Pansing Brooks
Lou Ann Linehan
Andrew La Grone
— Paul Hammel