By Krista Rinehart, CSG National Leadership Center Coordinator
To say that Nebraska Speaker Mike Flood’s rise to his state’s legislative leadership was meteoric is not hyperbole.
“In an unusual move for the Nebraska legislature,” said Flood, “I went from being the Enrollment and Review chair, a housekeeping position assigned to the youngest member of the freshman class, to speaker in my third year in the legislature.”
Just 30 when he was sworn in as a freshman legislator, the now 37-year-old speaker is already facing retirement as term limits will force him out of the legislature at the end of the year. Flood offers an interesting perspective on the impacts of term limits.
“With term limits, the makeup of the legislature has changed greatly,” said Flood. “New senators have had to step into leadership positions almost immediately. It has made for a steep learning curve.”
Flood, who never held a committee chairmanship, is himself the model of the immediate responsibility thrust on Nebraska’s senators. He was able to learn from the examples set by his predecessors as he took the speaker’s chair at age 31; he was the youngest speaker in the country at that time and the second youngest in Nebraska history.
He relied on his ability to communicate and bring about consensus to lead his fellow senators. He often found that his role was just to guide the legislative process from start to finish.
“I try to find the right balance of letting the legislative process work, from the initial public hearing through the committee process and floor debate,” he said, “while at the same time working with the leadership and interested parties to find solutions on difficult issues.”
Three previous speakers, including Flood’s predecessor, Kermit Brashear, were his models of leadership and mentors during the early days of his leadership role.
“I have been fortunate to stand on the shoulders of giants,” said Flood. “ They showed me how to serve and to engender respect for the institution of the legislature.”
Following in that vein, Flood will serve a similar mentorship role for his successor if called upon.
“The loss of many years of experience and wisdom regarding state government can be difficult to replace,” said Flood. “At the same time, there can be new energy and ideas. It all depends on whether the new senators want to roll up their sleeves and educate themselves on the many issues facing state governments.”
A loss of experience and institutional knowledge are core concerns of many opponents to term limits. Flood shares some of those concerns, but in the case of his fellow Nebraskans, he is confident his state is in good hands.
“Sure I have concerns,” said Flood. “But, from what I have seen in the Nebraska legislature, the people are well-represented.”
He knows that from working closely with newer legislators and remembering what he learned early in his career.
“An early piece of advice I received was that a leader works to ensure the success of those around him,” Flood said. “In my role as speaker, I wanted the committee chairs and senators to accomplish what they wanted to accomplish. They put in the long hours to get their bills ready, in sitting through committee hearings. It is my job to facilitate what the majority of the body wants.”
Flood’s interest in politics was sparked at a young age. He can remember following President Ronald Reagan and watching the Republican National Convention as a fourth grader.
As he looks to end his current political career, Flood is thankful for the roots that put him on the political track.
“After I finished school and returned to Norfolk, a former state senator talked to me about running for the legislature and I am glad for his encouragement,” said Flood “It has been a great privilege to represent the people of my hometown and local communities at the capitol.”