Langemeier balances family, senate

When Sen. Chris Langemeier was elected to the Nebraska Legislature in 2004, his 5-year-old son was sure he couldn’t make it to the swearing-in ceremony.

“No, Dad, I have to go to preschool. It’s the law,” Jakub said.

That week, the senator’s wife sent a note, excusing Jakub from school the day of the ceremony. That night, the boy was the first to call his dad, eager to tell him he would be there.

“But I thought you had to go to school,” the father said.

“Nope – Mom’s notes are better than the law,” the boy replied.

That ceremony changed the Langemeiers’ lives.

Langemeier, who represents District 23, must now divide his time between a Lincoln career and a Schuyler family. He faces everything from property-tax issues to finding ways to keep young Nebraskans in rural areas. Although he advocates wind energy, he opposes stem cell cloning, evidence of a possible liberal-conservative conflict. But outside his career, life is just as busy.

On weekends in Schuyler, he helps run Land Mark Management and Realty, Inc., the company passed down from his father. In between, Langemeier and his family go to movies, play games and participate in the activities of their two sons.

“Right now we’re really busy with club basketball,” said his wife, Kerri, noting how hectic it can get when the parents both coach and travel with the team.

Being a senator wasn’t always Langemeier’s dream. Colleagues and constituents urged him to run in 2004 because of his work in the Lower Platte Natural Resources District. Before agreeing, Langemeier and his wife weighed their options, and ultimately, the chance to help his constituents convinced him to take the job and is now what makes it worth the time away from family.

“It was a surprise to me,” Kerri said. “We had to discuss how to make it work with two kids – I had two very small children at the time. Would he drive back and forth? Could I handle the kids by myself?”

The transition wasn’t easy for the family.

At first, Jakub and Aaron, now 10 and 6, didn’t understand why dad wasn’t home. Now, more than five years later, the boys’ routine and more activities keep them busy. They understand their dad’s job more, too.

“We’re on a different level of discussion,” Langemeier said. The boys engage in talks about politics and law at the dinner table, and each has a book of statutes in his room.

When in Lincoln, Langemeier keeps in touch with his family via daily e-mail and phone calls.

The phone doesn’t only ring for family, though. Danae Escher, Langemeier’s aide of three years, is in charge of directing those calls.

“It gets busy during the session,” Escher said. “There are lots of constituent calls, lots of invitations.”

Most calls are referred to Craig Breunig, an aide who has worked with Langemeier since he first came to the Legislature. Some constituents call to say thanks, while others complain. Property taxes are always an issue, Breunig said, as well as abortion, the death penalty and any bill Langemeier is a major part of.

“I’ve been here for 10 years,” he said. “Your skin gets a little thicker. I try to calm them down, and I don’t talk too much if I’m not well aware of the issue. I certainly don’t debate on the phone.”

Breunig usually turns calls about the Natural Resources Committee, which Langemeier is chairman of, over to a legal assistant.

The committee’s big issue this year is wind energy. Nebraska has great potential but ranks only 22nd in generated wind energy. So, on Jan. 22, the committee introduced a bill allowing the state to accelerate its wind energy program. Langemeier hopes to develop wind energy on a larger scale without negatively affecting the state.

“The reality is, Nebraska’s in a great location for wind energy,” he said. “If we’re going to do wind, let’s do wind right.”

For a senator opposed to stem cell cloning – typically a conservative stance – this may seem like a contradiction.

“I am a conservative,” Langemeier said. “The liberal side is, ‘Let’s use wind and nothing else.’ In reality, we’re going to need a lot more energy. Why not use something renewable and take advantage of federal credit?”

Some issues lack clear solutions, though. Another initial concern for Langemeier is that, unlike himself, young people are leaving rural Nebraska.

“I want my kids in a small town with opportunities,” Langemeier said. “I think it’s important to make the most of where you’re at.”

Heeding his own advice, Langemeier looks forward to each weekend – when the faces in the family photo on his Lincoln windowsill are more than just images stuck in a frame.

Story by Krista Vogel, NewsNetNebraska

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