Tags: former nebraska gov. charles thone | barry goldwater | former gov. and sen. bob kerrey

Remembering Nebraska's Ex-Gov. Charles Thone: Public Servant Par Excellence

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Charles Thone in 2003 (AP)

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Sunday, 11 March 2018 08:39 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Saturday, November 8, 1997: It was a big night for Nebraska's Charles Thone. Under the aegis of then-State Republican Chairman Chuck Sigerson, the party was hosting a testimonial dinner to honor Thone, who served as U.S. representative from 1970-78 and then governor of the Cornhusker State from 1978-82.

Among those paying tribute to Thone at Omaha's Executive Suites Hotel were Omaha Mayor Hal Daub, former Sen. Roman Hruska (Thone's old boss and mentor), Republican National Co-Chairman Patricia Harrison — and I!

Although I had no connection to Nebraska other than occasional trips to report on politics, Chairman Sigerson wanted me to speak and get up close to a Republican who was universally loved by the party.

Thinking of just what to say, I recalled that Thone's beloved University of Nebraska football team had just triumphed that afternoon by 45-to-38 over its arch-rival University of Missouri.

"May we please have a moment of silence for our friends in Missouri?" I deadpanned—leading to laughter and applause. No one laughed louder and harder than Charley Thone.

Upon hearing the news that Thone died last week at age 94, that magical evening of toasting and joshing him came back in my mind after more than 20 years.

A U.S. Army Air Corps veteran of World War II and graduate of the University of Nebraska law school, Thone set up a law practice in Lincoln. But it wasn't long before politics and public life beckoned him. He served as an assistant secretary of state in Nebraska from 1951-52, and then won election as state Jaycees president.

By the 1960s, Thone was juggling his law practice in Lincoln with serving as the unpaid state director of operations for Sen. Hruska and serving as state Republican chairman.

On October 8, 1961, the Nebraskan was one of three state party chairmen to join conservative business leaders and members of Congress in Chicago and try to determine if the passion on the right aroused by Barry Goldwater could be translated into a presidential nomination in '64.

It was, and Thone was in San Francisco to cheer his hero Goldwater's nomination. That fall, however, as Goldwater was losing decisively to President Lyndon Johnson, Democrats made big gains in Nebraska. Thone was beaten for lieutenant governor by Democrat Phil Sorensen, brother of John Kennedy's wordsmith Ted Sorenson.

Six years later, Thone made it back to public office following the retirement of Republican Rep. Robert Denny. In his election to Congress from the Lincoln area in 1970, Thone was part of a Republican class that included conservatives such as Jack Kemp, N., future House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer, Texas, and future Armed Services Committee Chairman Floyd Spence, S.C.

The Nebraskan came down on the conservative side with one notable exception — in 1970, when he supported the Family Assistance Program (FAP) crafted by Nixon administration staffer Daniel Patrick Moynihan that would provide cash incentives to welfare families. With the charge led by California Gov. Ronald Reagan and other "workfare" advocates, FAP was stopped.

Thone achieved his lifetime dream of becoming governor in 1978. Vowing to "take care of your tax dollars the way I took care of my mother's egg money," Thone oversaw a fiscally conservative government without tax increases.

"Charley shunned the trappings of title and officiousness," Hal Daub told us, "All who came in contact with him really liked him. He was a committed conservative with a Midwestern populism that caused him to seek compromise and often engineered bi-partisan results as a highly respected congressman and as Nebraska's governor."

Re-election seemed a piece of cake for Gov. Thone. But 1982 turned out to be a big Democratic year, and Democrats had a star candidate — Bob Kerrey, Medal of Honor winner in Vietnam, restauranteur and political outsider. In a major upset, he unseated Thone and became an overnight national figure.

"Charley was a public service role model," former Secretary of Defense and former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R.-Neb., told Newsmax. "He was a public servant through and through – ethical, decent, honest, humble and hard working. Always a joy to be around. He had a strong belief in the wisdom and goodness of the people. He'll be missed. Nebraska is a better place today because of him."

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

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Saturday, November 8, 1997: It was a big night for Nebraska's Charles Thone. Under the aegis of then-State Republican Chairman Chuck Sigerson, the party was hosting a testimonial dinner to honor Thone, who served as U.S. representative from 1970-78 and then governor of the...
former nebraska gov. charles thone, barry goldwater, former gov. and sen. bob kerrey
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