"George Norris, Going Home"

November, 2013

Lincoln -- Gene Budig and Don Walton have finally published a book they started over fifty years ago: George Norris, Going Home. They began it with interviews of Norris's widow, Ellie, that ran in the Lincoln Star at the beginning of their careers; they finished it decades later after Gene's wife found their abandoned book-version manuscript in an attic.

The slim volume is full of references to Norris's life, such as where he and his family lived in Washington when Congress was in session. It was at the Dodge Hotel, now the site of the Hall of the States on North Capitol Avenue, a few blocks from the Senate near Union Station.

My favorite passage is the description of Norris's appearance in the Nebraska Unicameral chamber at noon on March 10, 1943. It was his first visit to the unique institution he had campaigned for, against all odds, nine years earlier. That was also the same day I made my first appearance in this life, across town a few hours earlier at Bryan Memorial Hospital.

My least favorite passage (which appears twice) is where the authors pull their punches regarding the shameful treatment given George Norris by two U.S. senators in the mid 1950s, over a decade after his death. (The episode is recounted in the official history of the Senate). The authors, inexplicably, do not name the names of those behind the political pettiness.

Norris had been the top choice of 160 scholars for recognition of the U.S. Senate's five historically greatest members. But he was vetoed for inclusion by Senators Carl Curtis and Roman Hruska, who threatened extended debate against the man who had been their home-state political rival. So the "famous five" turned out to be Webster, Clay, Calhoun, Taft, and LaFollette, but not Norris.

Did this dimish the lasting memory of Norris, and the importance of the state he represented? I think it did. When I was working in the U.S. Senate in the early 1980s, Senator J. James Exon sent a letter to President Ronald Reagan alerting him to a celebration of Norris's accomplishments. The President sent back a letter regretting that he could not attend, but asked Senator Exon to extend his regards to Senator Norris.