Senator features

Eclectic path brings Hardin to Legislature

Above: Sen. Brian Hardin and family dog, Layla, take a snack break while enjoying a hike.

A wooden business card holder sits on Sen. Brian Hardin’s desk, engraved with his name and district number — a gift from U.S. Congressman Adrian Smith. It was Smith’s father, Neal, who first suggested that Hardin run for the open seat in Legislative District 48.

The elder Smith was principal of the country grade school in Mitchell Valley that Hardin attended, and the two men ran into each other at church a few years ago. Hardin had been away from the area for 27 years, most of them in Denver, but had recently returned to Gering following the death of his sister-in-law.

He’d always been close with his brother, Hardin said, and the chance to be near family again was a strong draw. So he and wife Lili, along with a geriatric, “unruly” Jack Russel Terrier named Layla, moved home.

Running into Neal Smith that day was, he says, like most things in his life, “more providential than planned.”

After attending seminary in Denver and earning a master’s degree, Hardin worked in ministry in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania for nearly seven years. While he loved the people and the natural beauty, he missed Nebraska and the “specific culture” of middle America.

A move back to Denver opened up a new door to the insurance industry, where Hardin thrived — eventually building a business with several thousand brokers across the country.

The insurance industry was pivotal in Hardin’s life in two ways. First it afforded him the freedom to pursue his music interests. But, additionally, a fateful public policy decision regarding the industry was the spark that got him interested in politics.

Hardin’s love of music has resulted in a few hundred songs that he’s written and a fair amount of time spent in Nashville. His cover band, Kid Shelleen — named after Lee Marvin’s character in the classic film “Cat Ballou” — has gigs booked well into 2024.

“We’re mostly a support group for old men,” Hardin joked.

Professionally, everything changed for him with the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010.

“Governmental overreach ruined a business that I worked really hard building,” Hardin said.
“That gets your attention.”

His frustration led to involvement in local politics in the Denver area and eventually to that fateful
conversation with Adrian Smith’s dad.

“He’d heard that I was involved with the G.O.P. in Colorado and while I initially ignored his
suggestion about running for office, I kept thinking about it,” Hardin said.

Now that he’s earned a seat in the Legislature, Hardin said he looks forward to working with
fellow senators on legislation that reflects his constituents’ conservative values — and to
decorating his Capitol office with some of his many guitars.

“I think we can accomplish a lot of things that the majority of Nebraskans want,” Hardin said.

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