OMAHA, Neb. — Longtime Nebraska politician Bill Barrett, who was known for seeking consensus and compromise while helping shape the nation’s farm policy during his decade in Congress, has died. The conservative Republican was 87.
Barrett died Tuesday at an assisted living facility in Lexington, his hometown, according to Tami Reynolds of Reynolds-Love Funeral Home in Lexington.
Barrett was outspoken on farm issues and helped write the Freedom to Farm Act in 1996 that limited farm subsidies. He also tried to keep the federal government out of local water rights issues during his 10 years representing the western two-thirds of Nebraska in the state’s 3rd Congressional District.
Barrett served in the U.S. House from 1991 through 2000 — and he visited each of his district’s 66 counties annually, to keep a campaign promise. Before his terms in Congress, Barrett spent 12 years in the Nebraska Legislature, his final four years as speaker.
When he left office, Barrett encouraged others to consider public service because the work could be rewarding — but it was clear he was frustrated with the strident partisanship of Washington D.C.
“When I weigh all the pros and cons of this job, I’ve decide that I’m at a point in my life where I’d rather start my day with ‘Good morning, Grandpa’ instead of ‘Good morning, Congressman,'” Barrett said when he announced his retirement in 1999.
Former U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey, a Nebraska Democrat, said Barrett succeeded in politics the right way: by building relationships and seeking to understand other people’s point of view even when he disagreed.
“He had a phenomenal attitude about life,” Kerrey said. “He was always considerate even when someone had a different point of view.”
In addition to serving in Congress together, Kerrey worked with Barrett to balance Nebraska’s budget when Kerrey was governor and Barrett was speaker of the Legislature.
Barrett graduated from Hastings College in 1951 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. After college, he served in the Navy during the Korean War. He then worked in the admissions office at Hastings College before returning to his hometown of Lexington in 1956 to join his family’s general insurance, real estate brokerage and appraising firm, Barrett-Housel & Associates.
When he retired from politics, he returned to Lexington.
He also served on the Republican National Committee during the 1960s, campaigned for Gerald Ford in the state in 1976 and served as state GOP chairman.
Barrett and his wife, Elsie, had four children: William, David, Elizabeth and Jane.
Republican U.S. Rep. Adrian Smith, who currently represents Nebraska’s 3rd District, said Barrett was known for bringing people together and staying true to his word.
“Serving Nebraskans was his top priority, and his dedication to our district and state set a lasting example for me and all who have sought to fill his shoes,” Smith said.