We’re going to miss Charlie Thone
If you look up “conservative politician” in the encyclopedia, there ought to be a picture of the late Charlie Thone.
The former Nebraska congressman and one-term governor died earlier this month. He will long be remembered as a very conservative Republican who was the first governor to support Ronald Reagan for President.
He was also the governor who appointed Kay Orr to fill a mid-term vacancy as State Treasurer. Orr later became governor.
Capitol observers also remember the “Thone Clones,” a group of state senators he organized to help things go his way in the Legislature. I can’t say if that was a widely known fact, but reporters and lobbyists were well aware. So, it wasn’t an original idea for subsequent governors Dave Heineman and Pete Ricketts.
There were times, especially after his exit from politics at the hands of the young war hero native son Bob Kerrey, that one could forget that Thone was once a staunch Republican. A favorite quote—widely used in other editorial memorials to him this month—shows a spirit of compromise and a word of caution about the current political landscape.
“Good policy sometimes is fashioned with compromise by listening to the other side,” he said. “You need to have your core principles but give and take sometimes is good. Today, the lack of civility is dramatic,” he said.
A post-political office Thone took advantage of relationships with “the other side.” He became friends with another retired governor, Democrat Frank Morrison. The relationship was significant because during Morrison’s time as governor, Thone was Republican state chairman and often critical of Morrison.
In addition to the party chairmanship and one term as governor, Thone’s political resume included stints as assistant Nebraska attorney general, assistant U.S. Attorney for Nebraska, aid to U.S. Senator Roman Hruska and eight years in the House of Representatives.
He told the Lincoln Journal Star that his gubernatorial legacy would include higher education funding and the veto of a 1979 legislative attempt to repeal the death penalty.
A news release from Ricketts’ Director of Strategic Communications Taylor Gage—Kay Orr’s grandson—outlined highlights of Thone’s state of the state messages characterized as a “legacy of fiscal conservatism.”
In his first address to the Legislature (1979), Thone laid out a vision for budget restraint and running a more efficient government: “[T]here are those who only lately have come to realize that the resources of state government are limited, and there are those who have only recently come to recognize that there are limits not alone on our resources but on what government can effectively do.”
In 1980 Thone remarked, “As I travel throughout the state and talk with many Nebraskans, I pick up one underlying theme—people want less government, not more; fewer laws, not more; and less regulation, not more.”
Sounds like something we’ve heard from Pete Ricketts, doesn’t it?
Thone’s 1981 address proposed international trade offices in Tokyo and Frankfurt and the utilization of biofuels in state vehicles. In his final address in 1982, Thone cautioned lawmakers that “state government must discipline itself to live within its means.
Among his budget suggestions: cutting spending increases in half; reducing individual income tax rates; avoiding tax increases by controlling spending; and reducing the number of state employees.”
More fodder for the Ricketts’ playbook.
After leaving the public arena, Thone practiced law and government affairs and got involved in the community and supported candidates for public office. In 2010 he rallied other former Nebraska Governors to convince voters to retain the State Treasurer’s Office. The attempt to eliminate the office failed.
Thone is survived by his wife, former First Lady Ruth Thone, and his daughters Marie, Amy and Anna.
On a personal note, Ruth Thone and I are both from Scottsbluff. She was a close high school friend of my sister and was the first girl to ever give me flowers. She worked at a flower shop after school and sent a rose to my hospital room (with my sister) the day I was born.