Sen. Megan Hunt tackling tough issues on new terrain

April 21, 2019 GMT

When newly elected Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha was invited to pick out her seat in the Legislature, she sought a landing spot near Sen. Ernie Chambers and asked to be seated in the midst of colleagues who are Republicans.

And so today she sits directly in front of Chambers, the Legislature’s iconic independent figure, and is surrounded by Republicans, with Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue the only Democrat within speaking distance.

Mission accomplished.

“I know the senators who are progressives,” Hunt said during an interview in her 11th floor office in the Capitol. “I did not want to just stay in my tribe.”

Nebraska’s nonpartisan Legislature is “built for us to collaborate,” she said.

“And I think I have formed a nice relationship” with those Republican seatmates, Hunt said.

They all have gotten to know one another and talk about their families and hobbies and individual lives since they first settled in together and set sail on their five-month adventure, she said.

“I don’t know if we would have had the same opportunities to talk” if she had sought refuge among fellow Democrats or progressives who serve in the Legislature, she said.

Hunt wants to matter.

And so she hit the ground running — or at least visibly walking fast — with a progressive agenda that has challenged her new colleagues with proposals to enact a minimum wage increase for waitresses and waiters, repeal the prohibition on access to food stamps for people who have had drug felony convictions, ban so-called conversion therapy, defend abortion rights and address hate crimes.

Not a cupcake agenda.

For Hunt, 32, this new life as a state senator is both a challenge and an adventure.

“I had been a watcher of the Legislature and an admirer of some of the people I observed,” she said. “It’s almost like watching your favorite TV show and then being cast in it now.”

Despite fundamental policy differences, she said, “all of us do get along pretty well.”

Hunt, co-founder of a clothing boutique, represents midtown Omaha’s 8th District, including the Dundee, Benson and Keystone neighborhoods. It’s a district that she says is very diverse in terms of race, religion and income and “very, very informed.”

“I will stand up for people in poverty,” Hunt said, and represent the interests of women, refugees and immigrants while addressing the issues that impact all Nebraskans.

“I’m still working to build trust among my colleagues,” she said.

“What you do is much more important than what you say,” Hunt said. “The best thing I can do is to do my best every day.”

Hunt shares this new experience along with her own observations on her active Twitter account, sparking criticism from some of her colleagues during debate on one legislative day.

One recent tweet: “I hope you watch, react, & I hope some of you normals consider running. We need reason in politics. If you want to but don’t think you’re qualified to do what we do, just do what I did in 2015 and watch for a few days — you’ll see your perspective is needed, & you belong here.”

So far, Hunt would grade her legislative experience as a C.

And that’s because she’s a tough grader.

“It’s my nature to feel everything is very urgent,” she said. “So, internally, emotionally, I feel a little frustrated. A little unproductive, ineffective. That’s being myself.

“Success to me is whatever we do today, although I don’t expect to change the world.”

But Hunt is happy to be where she is.

Being here gets a higher grade.

“I absolutely love it,” she said. “I love this work; I love this building; I love being in that chamber every day.

“This is very, very important work and a lot of it occurs behind the scenes. It’s a collaborative process.”

And she’s doing this partly for Alice.

That’s Hunt’s 8-year-old daughter, who spent the morning in the legislative chamber one day when school was called off, sitting at a table under the balcony adjacent to the legislative floor along with Seaweed, her stuffed toy otter.

Hunt is divorced.

“Her dad and I are friends, better friends than spouses,” she said. “And I could not do this without her father’s support.”

Women in the Legislature