Linehan trades federal experience for state service

Above: Senator Lou Ann Linehan with husband Kevin, son Patrick and grandsons Jack, Luke and Mitch.

Sen. Lou Ann Linehan cannot remember a time when politics and history did not fascinate her.

She graduated from high school in May 1973, the month of the Watergate hearings in Washington, D.C. After waking at 5:30 every morning to help milk cows on her family’s dairy farm near Crab Orchard, she spent her afternoons in front of the television watching the hearings.

“I was just mesmerized by it all,” she said.

Linehan has been active in the state Republican Party since she served as volunteer coordinator for Ally Milder in the 1988 Republican congressional primary. Linehan became Milder’s campaign manager in 1990 when Milder ran for the 2nd District congressional seat.

In early 1993, Linehan met a Nebraska businessman named Chuck Hagel who was interested in running for the U.S. Senate. He asked Linehan, who by then had developed a knack for running campaigns, to help him get elected. “I just want somebody who knows how to win a county sheriff’s race — and you do,” he told her.

Hagel won, becoming the first Nebraska Republican elected to a Senate seat in 24 years. He asked Linehan to be his chief of staff and, after flying back and forth between Hagel’s Omaha and Washington offices for a few years, she and her family moved to Fairfax, Va., in 2001.

At around the same time, the Bush administration appointed Linehan to serve as deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. State Department under Colin Powell. She worked as a liaison between the department and the Senate for the next 18 months, until Hagel again asked her to work for him. She was his chief of staff until 2007 and then returned to the State Department.

In 2008, Linehan was assigned to Provincial Reconstruction Team Baghdad. She helped screen department managers being sent to Iraq and traveled around the country, again acting as a liaison, this time with the Army.

Linehan said the essence of her work at the State Department was getting groups of people — diplomats, soldiers, politicians — to talk to each other and work together.

“That’s every success in life — and not just talking, but listening,” she said.

Linehan retired from federal service in 2012 and returned to Elkhorn, Nebraska. She had planned to spend more time with her grandchildren, read books, garden and tutor dyslexic children — she had trouble reading as a child — but ran for office because she wants to reduce the state’s property and income taxes, which she says are unsustainably high.

After spending years working in the U.S. Senate, Linehan knew much of what to expect about working in a legislative body. One striking difference, Linehan said, is the efficiency of the Unicameral compared to the U.S. Congress.

“It’s wonderful,” she said. “Compared to two houses? It’s much better.”

Linehan said George Norris was right when he spoke of the murkiness of the conference committee, in which legislation from the two houses of a bicameral legislature is reconciled in secret.

“Everything here is right out in the open,” she said.

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