Senator features

Wayne suits up for legislative session

Above: Coach Justin Wayne poses with his third grade team to celebrate winning first place in a 2014 tournament.

For the past 16 years, Sen. Justin Wayne has coached basketball for a youth sports program in Omaha and serves as its president. In 2008, a few of his players noticed his grousing about Omaha’s public schools, so they encouraged Wayne to follow the same advice he gave them: if you are going to complain, be a part of the solution.

“If I’ve got things that I’m complaining about, I can’t sit on the sidelines,” he said. “I’ve got to get in the game.”

With two players as campaign managers, he ran for and won a seat on the Learning Community Coordinating Council. In 2010, he was elected to the Omaha Public Schools board and later served a year as its president before leaving to take his seat in the Nebraska Legislature.

In high school, Wayne had intended to walk on to the University of Kansas basketball team, but he was hit by a drunk driver his senior year. The resulting back injury forced Wayne to give up that dream, and he transferred to Creighton University, closer to home.

“I was in a funk,” Wayne said.

Judge Darryl Lowe, a Douglas County district court judge who coached Wayne as a young basketball player, called him to his office and told him he should attend Creighton’s law school. Wayne, who is biracial, said the first day in class was a shock.

“I was the darkest person in the room,” he said, “and I’m not that dark.”

Wayne felt out of place, but the judge encouraged him to stick with it. Wayne later became president of Creighton’s Black Law Students Association and its Student Bar Association.

When making decisions as a senator, Wayne said, he is guided by loyalty to the people in his district, the ones who have known him his whole life and who are the resident experts on what is happening in their community.

“This is the district I was born and raised in,” he said. “From Hartman Elementary down to Florence Boulevard, that’s been the core of the district since I was little.”

In Wayne’s district, the most pressing problems are a lack of good jobs, high property taxes and education. Investing in education would boost the state’s economy and prevent more children from ending up in the juvenile justice system, he said.

“We as a state have got to narrow our focus on our children,” Wayne said. “If we don’t figure out juvenile justice and education, Nebraska will get left behind.”

Wayne said his variety of experience — he owns a construction company in addition to his law practice and spent much of his childhood on his mother’s family farm — will help him find common ground with rural and urban senators alike to address those problems.

“People generally want to help out Nebraska,” he said. “How we get there is what differs.”

In his free time, Wayne enjoys spending time with his wife Katie and daughter Mya. He also spends at least six hours a week doing what he loves most: coaching basketball.

If University of Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst ever needs a basketball consultant willing to work pro bono, Wayne said, he need look no farther than District 13.

“Just get me on the floor,” Wayne said. “No charge — I will get it done.”

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