Working Across Generations for State Solutions: ‘We Succeed or Fail Together’

Nebraska state Sen. Beau McCoy serves as the 2016 national chair of The Council of State Governments. Among the 16 percent of Nebraska’s legislators who are millennials, McCoy believes strong leaders should not be limited or defined by their age. He said leaders of all ages must come together to identify and achieve solutions to the challenges facing states—taxes, federal regulation, education and workforce development. McCoy, a 2011 Henry Toll Fellow, said he is inspired by so many public servants representing the three branches of government, with whom he has worked and forged lasting friendships over the years.

1. You were elected to the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature in 2008. What would you say has been the biggest issue facing Nebraska—and the Midwest region—in the years you’ve been in office?

“There is no doubt the main issue raised by Nebraskans is high property taxes, especially for agricultural land. Property taxes are tightly intertwined with our school aid formula, the Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act, or as it is commonly referred to, TEEOSA.

After the recession in the late 2000s and the slow recovery, budgets are tight for families and businesses. This is especially true for farmers and ranchers. Agriculture is not just our leading industry, but a proud way of life in Nebraska.”

2. How has the federal-state relationship changed during your tenure as a state legislator?

“The increase of (federal) one-size-fits-all regulations is burdening our states and citizens. Each state in our union is unique, with its own set of strengths and challenges. As state legislators, we understand these nuances and are best situated to address issues. Unfortunately, our counsel and advice usually falls on deaf ears in the federal government. We must work on developing a framework for states to have an active role in reviewing and reacting to adverse policies adopted at the federal level.”

3. You spent many years as a part of your family’s construction and ranching businesses. What lessons have you learned in the private sector that you’ve brought to the Unicameral?

“I grew up in the same sod house in which my great-grandparents raised their eight children. Fixing fences, putting up hay and calving heifers were part of my daily life for many years. When I was 16, I didn’t buy a car; I bought a tractor so that my brothers and I could start our own haying business and put ourselves through college.

Growing up in agriculture and owning a small business very simply meant that folks’ livelihood depended on me. I learned the value of working hard until the job is done. There are few things in life more rewarding than knowing you are contributing to the engine of commerce and to American free enterprise.”

4. You’ve been an advocate for children and education, both in Nebraska and through CSG’s workforce development initiatives. Why is this so important?

“As elected leaders, we are duty bound to provide the best education possible for all children. With workplace needs changing rapidly, state leaders must partner with industry leaders to proactively develop innovative solutions to educate and train our current and future workforce.
Nebraska’s manufacturers are a great example of the need for innovative solutions. We have a significant number of high-tech jobs available in our state, but not enough skilled workers to fill them. Manufacturers, educators and leaders are partnering together so our students are prepared to fill those positions and enjoy a good-paying career and a great quality of life for their families.”

5. You were elected at a young age. How can state leaders help foster a commitment to public service among today’s youth and young adults?

“I strongly believe that a date on the calendar does not define the effectiveness of a person. All too often, we as leaders treat those younger than us as not having enough life experience 
or maturity to serve our communities and states in meaningful ways. As leaders, we can, and should, invite young people to the ‘grown-ups’ table’ to participate in real solutions to real issues that will greatly affect their future.

Millennials make up 16 percent of the membership of the Nebraska Legislature. I am proud to be part of that 16 percent.”

6. As a father to five children who, with your wife, is in the process of adopting a child from China, how do you share the lesson of giving back with your children?

“Our family is greatly blessed. We are able to provide a safe and loving home to our children and enjoy a large extended family full of love and support that lives nearby.
As parents, Shauna and I consciously expose our children to some of the harsh realities others face–not only in Nebraska, but around the world. It may be ringing bells for the Salvation Army Tree of Lights or taking them to The Compassion Experience, which is an interactive journey through true stories of children living in developing countries.

The title senator may be in front of my name, but we serve in public life as a family. Our children have always been taught that it is our duty and responsibility as Americans to serve others in a variety of ways even when it sometimes involves tremendous sacrifice.”

7. Older Americans have so much to offer our states and communities. How can state policymakers help ensure seniors remain engaged in growing states’ economies and shaping state policy?

“Americans are living and working longer than in any other time in our history. Their life experiences bring a historical understanding to the challenges states face today and will 
in the future. We can often avoid repeating costly mistakes if we just stop and listen to the sage advice of these older Americans.

I was honored to be sworn in with the late state Sen. Dennis Utter, who was a retired banker. My first couple of years in the Legislature, he and I were always the first to get to the capitol in the morning. We would grab coffee and sit in Dennis’ office to go over the newspapers. His counsel and wisdom made me a better legislator, a better leader and a better person.”

8. How are states leading the way in addressing the challenges of today in the wake of federal gridlock?

“Holding tight to our beliefs and principles is possible while engaging in civil discourse.
Nebraska’s unicameral system of state government forces senators to work together. You must build a coalition of support for each piece of legislation. It is hard, time-consuming work that usually results in better legislation that enjoys broad, often bipartisan, support. With only 49 senators and one house, we succeed or fail together. It’s encouraging for me to see that many of our legislatures in states across America are finding ways to work together to solve the common challenges we all face.”

9. What have you gained from your work with other state leaders from across the country and the three branches of government through CSG?

“I was fortunate to attend my first CSG function just a few months after being sworn into office. My entire legislative career has been influenced by the hard-working and passionate public servants in all three branches of government that make up the membership of CSG. From governors to judges to fellow legislators, I am blessed to have made lifelong friends and forged strong bonds with individuals in every corner of the United States.”

10. When you reflect on your year as CSG national chair, what do you want your legacy to be?

“My legacy with CSG is no more or less important than the legacies of tens of thousands of public servants who have come before me. I get a lump in my throat every time I walk in a capitol building anywhere in America when I contemplate all of the dedicated Americans who gave, and give, so much 
of their time and treasure back to the states they dearly love. It has been a high honor and a privilege to lead our great organization for a brief moment in time. I will always consider myself a part of CSG for life.”