Greg Adams is promising an "agenda of fairness" in his new role as speaker of the Nebraska Legislature, even as lawmakers prepare for a tug-of-war over taxes and spending
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Greg Adams is promising an "agenda of fairness" in his new role as speaker of the Nebraska Legislature, even as lawmakers prepare for a tug-of-war over taxes and spending.
The 60-year-old state senator from York is assuming his new leadership role as lawmakers prepare to debate funding priorities for the state's next two-year budget. Gov. Dave Heineman is expected to call for some form of tax cuts in his State of the State address on Tuesday, but lawmakers have already introduced several bills that might compete with the Republican governor's wishes.
Ask about his expectations for the new, high-profile role, and Adams draws from his 31-year career as a high school social studies and economics teacher in York.
"The skills it takes to be a teacher - they carry over right to here," Adams said Friday in his new office at the Capitol. "First and foremost is communication. If you can communicate here, you don't necessarily always win the battle. But you come a lot closer. If people at least understand where you're coming from, then they're going to be much closer to agreeing with you."
Adams, who turns 61 next month, ran unopposed for speaker and was elected unanimously as lawmakers began this year's session. He replaces former Norfolk Sen. Mike Flood, who was forced from office by term limits.
In his floor speech, Adams promised to preserve the atmosphere of Nebraska's rare, nonpartisan Legislature - a system that many lawmakers vigorously defend. Colleagues say they're confident that Adams, a Republican, will make good on his first-day promise as he coaxes the Legislature through a 90-day session.
"He's not driven by any deep commitment to an ideology," said Lincoln Sen. Bill Avery, a Democrat who was elected the same year as Adams and who served with him on the Education Committee. "He evaluates issues on their merits, and he can tell you why he opposes or supports a bill. He's deliberative, he's thoughtful, and he can make good arguments for it."
Avery said he expects Adams will help nudge lawmakers toward common ground on contentious issues as they wade into the session. He pointed to Adams' experience negotiating Nebraska's state aid formula for its 249 public school districts - a frequent point of contention between rural schools and seven urban districts that now educate more than half of Nebraska's students.
"My observation has been that the speaker's opinion matters on almost any issue," Avery said. "If you get the speaker's support for your bill, that's a big help. (Lawmakers) look to the speaker for leadership, unless the speaker does something to undermine that leadership. And I certainly don't see that happening with Greg."
This year, Adams will have to help the Legislature navigate a series of competing priorities, from a proposed Medicaid expansion to tax cuts. Heineman is expected to bring forth a tax proposal of his own.
Adams said it's too early to know how the Legislature and governor's priorities will balance out. In the heat of last year's session, Heineman criticized Flood for his support of a city sales tax measure and a bill that restored prenatal care benefits for illegal immigrants. The governor has struck a more cordial tone at the outset of this year's session, saying he looked forward to working with Adams and other state senators.
"Certainly, I think the governor has made very clear that he thinks the inheritance tax needs to go away," Adams said. "There will be plenty of things in the Revenue Committee to deal with (taxes), unquestionably."
Adams was elected to the Legislature in 2006, after a decade-long stint as mayor of his childhood home of York. Before that, he spent 10 years on the City Council.
He remains an avid runner - he ran the Lincoln Marathon several years ago - and a hiker. Before he took office in the Legislature, he regularly hunted pheasants and went fishing at a reservoir in South Dakota. He and wife, Julie, a medical technician, have three adult children.
In his office hangs a portrait of Abraham Lincoln, one of his most-admired political figures, and atop his desk sits a replica of The Sower, the 20-foot statue of a farmer spreading his seed by hand atop the Capitol dome. Both point to his love of history, which he studied as an undergraduate and graduate student at Wayne State College.
Adams returned to York after graduating, spent a year digging basements for his father's construction business, and then began teaching in York Public Schools. In his early years, he taught high school seniors how to trade in the stock market with copies of The Wall Street Journal.
"The students loved him," said Dale Kahla, a retired teacher who worked with Adams for two decades. "I sat in on his classes a few times, just to visit. He made political science come alive."
Scottsbluff Sen. John Harms said Adams has developed a reputation as someone who listens respectfully to his fellow lawmakers, even when he disagrees.
"It's one of his greatest strengths," Harms said. "He's able to look at both sides of an issue. He's very fair, very objective, and he wants to make sure people are treated appropriately."
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)