Above: Sen. Rita Sanders embraces nature at the 2020 Nebraska Steak Fry at Arbor Lodge State Historical Park in Nebraska City.
Not even historic levels of snowfall can dampen Bellevue Sen. Rita Sanders’ positive outlook on life. Born and raised in Hawaii, she looked outside her office window at the snow drifts last week and focused on her affinity for snow sports.
Then again, the new senator appears game for all outdoor activity. An avid runner, Sanders has a goal of running one marathon each year — the Lincoln Marathon already is on her calendar for 2021. If the rock-climbing wall in her home is any indication, however, the mountains truly have her heart.
Sanders likens her experience climbing Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro to how she’ll approach her work as a new member of the Nebraska Legislature.
“The odds are definitely against you. You can go all the way and fail. So, you had better do the work,” she said.
One of seven children, it was her mother’s pragmatic attitude toward life that helped influence the way Sanders approaches new challenges.
“We were poor growing up. My mom always said she would not take any help from the government and we lived that way,” Sanders said. “If we didn’t have it, we didn’t spend it.”
Her father served in the military for 20 years and Sanders’ love for the armed services community runs deep. Her first exposure to Bellevue came at the wedding of one of her sisters — who was stationed at Offutt Air Force Base.
While Hawaii was “paradise,” she said, Bellevue has been a natural fit for Sanders and her husband, Rick, because of its highly rated education system, housing and livability.
The couple put down firm roots in the town, purchasing and developing an independent and assisted living campus, with the help of tax increment financing (TIF). It was that process, Sanders said, that piqued her interest in politics.
“Not everybody necessarily understands projects like TIF unless they have used it,” she said. “Bringing the [Bellevue] city council up to speed on the positive things that TIF provides is what got me involved in politics.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Sanders is most energized so far at the Legislature by her work on the Government, Military and Veteran Affairs Committee. If Offutt Air Force Base fails, she said, it would cause a domino effect impacting not just Bellevue, but Sarpy County and Nebraska as well.
Her experience recruiting new missions to the area, including her work on a task force to bring the nuclear command and control to Offutt, have her laser-focused on the future. Bringing the new U.S. Space Command Headquarters to Bellevue, she said, remains a top priority.
“The [recruitment effort] right from the city of Bellevue to the county to the state, to the governor’s office — who led it — it was fantastic to see that if we don’t get this space command, we are certainly poised for other missions going forward,” Sanders said.