WASHINGTON – Mayor Jim Bulkley and City Administrator Tara Vasicek are back in town after a quick and productive trip to the nation’s capital to meet with Nebraska’s top elected officials.
The two City of Columbus officials were among many leaders representing Northeast Nebraska as part of a trip organized by the Columbus, Fremont and Norfolk chambers of commerce. Second Ward City Councilor Katherine Lopez was also among the attendees there but was representing local nonprofit Centro Hispano with its executive director, Karina Perez.
The group traveled to the East Coast on Monday, Jan. 30th, and made the most of its trip before returning at the end of the week. While there, the Nebraska collective had meetings arranged with U.S. Reps. Adrian Smith, Don Bacon and Mike Flood, as well as U.S. Sens. Deb Fischer and Pete Ricketts.
“When you sit with them, they have their staff members sitting with you. They want to hear from us and our concerns, and our needs. They want to make sure they understand what those needs are,” Bulkley said. “I was impressed with how attentive they were.”
Sen. Fischer on Feb. 6th commented on her visit with the Nebraska collective on Twitter while sharing a photo that included her alongside Bulkley, Vasicek, Lopez, Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Dawson Brunswick and more.
“Enjoyed speaking with leaders from the Columbus, Norfolk, and Fremont Chambers of Commerce last week,” her Tweet stated. “We had a great discussion about ways we can grow our economy and address ongoing staffing challenges across our state.”
Vasicek and Bulkley said the Nebraska group spoke with the government leaders about an array of topics that affect Columbus and the region, such as workforce, housing, child care and immigration.
“I thought we had really productive conversations with all of them,” Vasicek said, noting improving Federal labor laws so teens ages 16-18 can become more involved in the workforce and have more opportunities available to them was one such discussion point.
“All these things we will follow up with them on. They take time, but it’s more impactful sitting in front of your representatives,” Vasicek said. “These things take time, but ongoing conversations get us local wins.”
The proof’s in the pudding. Vasicek recalled working with Sen. Fischer and then-Nebraska Congressman Jeff Fortenberry on a Federal funding matter for a snow removal equipment building at the Airport. Relationships with Nebraska leaders in Washington also helped with bringing Lost Creek Parkway to fruition.
Like the mayor and city administrator, Councilwoman Lopez came away impressed and encouraged after the meetings with Nebraska leaders.
“It was so special, it was huge to be able to meet with them,” Lopez said. “They took notes, they were engaging and they asked questions … It was pretty powerful.”
The Columbus mayor, city administrator and the city councilwoman were also among the group that Flood gave a private, nighttime tour of the U.S. House Chambers, where members introduce, debate and vote on legislation. The House Chamber also takes on national significance as the room where members count electoral votes, as well as the place Congress holds joint meetings and sessions, such as the State of the Union. (President Joe Biden’s 2023 State of the Union address was slated for 8 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 7th).
“If the history of that doesn’t blow you away, nothing does,” the mayor said, adding they also got to watch Congress proceedings live in action from up in the balcony on a separate occasion. “It was a lights-out, knock-out, neat thing. It was extremely worthwhile.”
The group squeezed in time to cheer on the Creighton University men’s basketball team while taking on Georgetown on Feb. 1st in Washington. The Northeast Nebraska presence may have served as good luck as the Bluejays won, 63-53.
City leaders were proud to represent their community in Washington, giving thanks to the chambers for organizing the trip and inviting them. Lopez also thanked Perez for bringing her along as a representative of Centro Hispano.
Columbus is definitely on the radar of those in Washington representing Nebraska, the city administrator and mayor stressed. That’s why taking the time for a trip to the capital is important.
“When you do have to call them, you want them to pick up and respond to your call. And I know we have a good rapport with them. I feel we have a well-known presence in Washington,” the mayor said. “Columbus is thought of very well with our people in Washington, D.C.”
The Northeast Nebraska group, including Columbus Mayor Jim Bulkley, City Administrator Tara Vasicek and City Councilwoman Katherine Lopez, pose for a photo with U.S. Sen. Pete Ricketts. The former Nebraska governor was recently sworn in as the 100th U.S. senator, taking the place of former Sen. Ben Sasse.
City Administrator Tara Vasicek, left, U.S. Rep. Mike Flood and Columbus Mayor Jim Bulkley pose for a photo together in Washington.
U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer poses for a photo with the Northeast Nebraska group in Washington. Fischer Tweeted out a similar photo with her thoughts on the visit.