Bob Kerrey and Chuck Hagel speak at Rotary Event, 8.5.16

Former Sen. Bob Kerrey speaks prior to a regional Rotary event at Nebraska Innovation Campus in 2016.

Bob Kerrey was back home at his alma mater in Lincoln last week, to deliver an address at the University of Nebraska College of Law, and his intellectual energy and curiosity filled the room.

Without text or notes, which he jettisoned in favor of journeying forth without a seat belt, Kerrey spoke to his audience about the importance of John Marshall.

And Louis Brandeis.

And the U.S. Supreme Court as an institution.

"If you took Marshall out of history, this would be a much different country," Kerrey said. "We got lucky.

"You can't buy the court," Kerrey declared. "You can buy Congress."

Naturally, questions following his address turned to the state of America and its leadership today. In the age of party over country, which both sides claim is occurring; partisanship over partnership; in the time of Trump.

Former Attorney General Jon Bruning touched on it briefly when he introduced Kerrey as the speaker for this year's Jon Bruning Public Service Lecture.

Bruning, a Republican who came agonizingly close to winning the GOP nomination for governor in 2014 after narrowly losing a bid for the GOP Senate nomination in 2012, saluted Kerrey, the former Democratic governor and U.S. senator.

"It's important to have relationships with people in the other party," he said.

"I sometimes worry about the path we're on," Bruning said.

Kerrey was questioned by an audience member about the week's events -- which included the president's abandonment of the Kurds, the apparent green light to Turkey to invade northern Syria, the departure of a U.S. military presence opening the path to expanded Russian presence and influence in the Mideast, and there's more.

"Are we at the bottom of the barrel?" Kerrey was asked.

"No," he said, "there is no bottom to it."

"I don't think he (the president) respects the Constitution," Kerrey said, and the country is endangered "if we normalize that behavior."

But, Kerrey said, "I think he's right on some things," including contesting China's trade practices and behavior.

The challenge now is "about us," Kerrey said. "Washington reflects who we are."

And looking ahead, he said: "I'm extremely optimistic and positive."

* * *

Flood control on the Missouri River is a big, burgeoning issue now.

Water released into the river from the Fort Randall Dam in South Dakota, a few miles from the Nebraska border, partnered with snow, rain and huge sheets of dislodged ice to create a billion dollar flooding disaster in Nebraska last March, along with causing substantial damage in bordering states.

And this clearly can, and probably will, happen again.

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All you need do is listen to the governor's call-in radio show to know that there is fear and foreboding out there, along with some concern that the Army Corps of Engineers is not adequately or fairly factoring in the damage downstream when it reaches decisions to release water from the series of dams along the Missouri.

It's also possible that there may now be a need for new flood control work on the river.

Gov. Pete Ricketts and the governors of Iowa, Kansas and Missouri are on the case and Ricketts has made it clear to callers that he is going to remain strongly and vigorously engaged.

Major infrastructure improvement in the United States, which has fallen far behind other countries in terms of modern rail, highway and air transportation advancements, has been all big talk and no real action so far. 

But let's put Missouri River flood control on that infrastructure to-do list.

Finishing up

* How do you cram the newest biography of Winston Churchill into one volume? A thousand pages. And that's the highlights.

* Just asking: Does the continuing flow of tens of millions of dollars of unanticipated revenue into the state treasury present an opportunity now to more aggressively attack prison reform needs like staff salaries, prison programming, parole and community programs? 

* And/or provide an opportunity to use some of those additional dollars to reduce student tuition costs that price out many families from their state university or leave students saddled with huge long-term debt?

* Kerrey announced on Facebook that he'll support former Vice President Joe Biden for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. Biden would be "a president ready to hit the ground running," Kerrey said, suggesting that the former VP also would "honor science and facts and renew our fight against climate change."

* Former Sen. Ben Nelson is also supporting Biden.

* Looking ahead to a better Husker second half of the season. And spring training.  

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSDon.


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