Legislative leader back in “marketplace of ideas”

Above: Sen. Mike Flood and his son Blake, on Blake’s first day as a cameraman in training.

When Norfolk Sen. Mike Flood last served in the Nebraska Legislature, his two sons were small enough to sit on his desk in the legislative chamber.

Now Brenden, 14, is a six-foot, 155-pound football player, and Blake, 11, is a gamer. They have few memories of their father’s prior service in the Legislature, where Flood served two terms between 2005 and 2013, six of those years as speaker.

“They remember seeing the pictures of the dinosaur in the Capitol rotunda, and they remember the big halls — but not much more,” he said.

Flood, an attorney who also has worked in radio broadcasting since high school, has spent the past few years growing his statewide media network, which now includes 10 radio stations and a TV news channel.

Around the time he left office, Flood traveled the state and heard from Nebraskans living in rural areas who get their news from Denver or Sioux City. Flood said he wanted his company to offer them a source of high-quality local news.

“Between radio and TV, it’s connecting people with their home state every single day in every single county,” he said.

But Flood, who became known as a skilled legislator and broker of compromise during his time in office, said he missed being in the “marketplace of ideas,” where people from across Nebraska come to share their ideas, hopes and dreams for the state.

“You can’t be in the Legislature and not like people,” he said. “You can’t be in the Legislature and not like creative ideas. And that’s what I missed the most from my service before and why I came back — I like being in the discussion.”

Flood said his district and others like it face a problem that should be part of that discussion: the lack of high-paying jobs and other factors leading to depopulation of the state’s rural areas. He wants to make northeast Nebraska a place where young people, including maybe someday his sons, want to stay.

Flood thinks the session has started well and said he was encouraged to see the relatively large number of bills introduced this year — new ideas for the marketplace. Despite the pandemic-imposed limits on interactions among senators, Flood said, he still has been able to meet and talk with other members.

“It couldn’t have started any better in terms of making new friendships and visiting with the other state senators,” he said. “That has been exactly what I remember, and the best part.”

Flood said he sees the same openness to compromise that he remembers from his prior service in the Legislature, and he believes that the sometimes “difficult” tone of political debate over the past few years might be changing.

“I think and hope there’s a renewed interest in, you know, decorum,” he said. “I’m certainly going to do my part to be as positive as I can be and as nice as I can be while still representing the interests of my constituents.”

Flood stays in Lincoln while the Legislature is in session but returns to northeast Nebraska every weekend. He said he switches radio frequencies as he drives north — he might listen to his Fairbury country station, then his Omaha Spanish-language station and then his Norfolk stations as he gets close to home.

“I am a radio connoisseur,” Flood said. “I’m surrounded down here by signals.”

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