A Nebraska state senator has taken his campaign for a second term to the people in a way you rarely see in the 21st century.
He's riding a mule — a tall one named Rhino that goes about 3 miles an hour — from town to town over two weeks in his western Nebraska District 43, which encompasses 13 counties. He's stopping in one town each day and meeting with people to listen and to talk to them about what they want to see their lawmaker do for them.
While other candidates can walk door to door in their much more compact districts, Sen. Tom Brewer must be creative. And so "Brewer's Army," a corps of 18 staff, friends and mostly other veterans he served with in combat, is on what he is calling Freedom Ride II, because he did this in 2016 before being elected to his first term.
It's a physical challenge being in the saddle six to eight hours a day, and then staging the entourage of 11 vehicles and 12 trailers and getting ready for a meet and greet. It's late nights and early risings, sleeping on the ground, in tents, a barn, and an old school in Wood Lake where it snowed.
"Think of a big machine that has to move horse trailers and trucks, enclosed trailers and equipment, camper trailers. And you have to each day move that forward to the next location, while the riders are riding what's called the Cowboy Trail out here," Brewer said.
The mule, rather than a horse, has been a great choice, he said, because he is calmer and more patient when an older person with a number of old war injuries has to climb on and off the saddle throughout the day, he said.
On Friday, he called the Journal Star from a hill near Merriman, a village in Cherry County, and the one spot he could get cell coverage. He then planned to get back on the trail bound for Gordon, his hometown.
The ride through District 43 started a week ago in Ainsworth and they have been riding 20 to 25 miles a day, about the spacing of towns and villages along the trail.
"They're just anxious to meet people," he said of the folks he has met along the way. "No one ever comes to these towns."
So they bring potluck dinners, serving with masks and social distancing, and meet the candidate to talk about their concerns — including issues like having medical emergencies but no emergency medical technicians, and a lack of firefighters. They have some concerns about the Nebraska Brand Committee, the R Line and wind towers that are springing up across the countryside. They talk about property taxes, economic development and mail voting.
Incidentally, Brewer said, people in western Nebraska judge you not just by what you say, but how well you take care of the animals you are riding.
"When you come to towns and people drop whatever they're doing and come just to pet your mule or talk to you about the problems of the world, there's a much closer bond you get with folks than knocking on the door and handing them a palm card and saying, 'Would you vote for me?'"
And they're going to remember you. If you're willing to ride a mule for a month, as in 2016, or even two weeks in 2020, you're probably going to keep your word, he said.
From here, the candidate and other riders will be in Rushville, Hay Springs, Chadron and Fort Robinson, which some other senators will attend, Brewer said. The southern route will include Alliance and Thedford. The ride will conclude Wednesday.
Brewer has an opponent in the race, Tanya Storer of Whitman, a Cherry County commissioner. In the May primary, Brewer got 61% of the vote to Storer's 39%.
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