Skip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.
Family matters: Brother, sister follow father into service in Nebraska Legislature

Family matters: Brother, sister follow father into service in Nebraska Legislature

  • Comments

The Senators Cavanaugh of Nebraska; call the roll.

There are two of them in the Legislature now, brother and sister, Machaela and John, both Omaha state senators.

And now that makes three; John Cavanaugh, their father, served in the Legislature from 1973 to 1977 before leaving to seek and win election to the U.S. House of Representatives. 

Machaela took her seat in the Legislature in 2019, and brother John arrived this year, representing the same midtown legislative district that his father did, although its boundaries have changed.

Machaela, director of development at "Women Who Run" in Omaha, an organization that supports and promotes progressive women running for office in Nebraska, has centered on health and human services needs at the Legislature.

John, who comes to Lincoln with the experience of working in the Douglas County public defender's office, says he'll focus on criminal justice reform.

Look at their bill introductions, and you will find hunger, health, family and medical leave, children with disabilities and youth rehabilitation on Machaela's list.

Ten of John's bills are related to criminal justice.

"We try and keep up," he says. "We (including his wife, Kate) are very proud. We didn't encourage it. They apparently picked up politics along the way."

Family matters to John, the father: In 1980, after two terms in Congress, he decided not to seek reelection to the House in order to return home and center on his family.

In his first weeks in a Legislature whose patterns and norms have been substantially altered by the coronavirus pandemic, John, the son, says he has been encouraged by evidence that senators "truly take to heart the desire to be nonpartisan."

The younger John Cavanaugh has been vocal at committee hearings: "I ask a lot of questions; I want to dig deep. That's an opportunity for fact-finding. Perhaps it's the trial lawyer in me."

He says he's "looking forward to floor discussion" that will begin once senators complete a schedule of all-day committee hearings implemented in response to pandemic challenges.

Machaela Cavanaugh says "I love seeing him every day," even if they rarely have time to talk.

"John and I are extremely close," she says. "We are Number 4 and Number 5" in a family of eight brothers and sisters. "John's a guy who shows up for everybody."

In her third legislative year, Machaela says she intends to "focus a lot of energy on children and families."

Yes, Machaela says, she plans to seek a second four-year term in 2022 — which could give her even more time in the Legislature with her brother.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or

On Twitter @LJSdon



Get Government & Politics updates in your inbox!

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


News Alerts

Breaking News