Nebraskans pay tribute to State Sen. Rich Pahls
Former Omaha City Councilman’s death triggers a special election in November
OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - State Sen. Rich Pahls of Omaha, who previously served as a city councilman, died early Wednesday from complications from cancer, a spokesman from his office told 6 News. He was 78.
Pahls returned to the Nebraska Legislature in 2020 after he was voted in while serving as Omaha’s 5th District City Councilman, an office he held for eight years. The former Millard Public Schools principal had already served eight years in the Unicameral, elected in 2004 and re-elected in 2008, before becoming a councilman.
Pahls was originally from Kansas, born in Jewel in 1943, obtaining his high school and college education there before going to receive his doctorate in education from the University of Nebraska in 1979.
In honor of Pahls, Gov. Pete Ricketts ordered flags in Nebraska to be flown at half-staff immediately through the end of Friday.
The legislative vacancy created by Pahls’ death will be filled by an appointee, in accordance with state law, so Ricketts will be called upon to select someone to serve out the year.
Because Pahls died before May 1, the law states that a special election in Legislative Dist. 31 to fill the seat for the remainder of his term — through 2024 — will happen in November. Candidates will need to gather 2,000 signatures by Sept. 1 in order to be listed on the ballot. Had Pahls died after May 1, the appointee would serve the remainder of his term.
TRIBUTES & MEMORIES
Friends remembered Pahls as someone who could easily shift between the policy of real-world implications to not taking yourself so seriously.
State Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln said he was “deeply saddened” by the news of Pahls’ death.
“Rich was an incredibly thoughtful and friendly person and a happy warrior — someone who enjoyed joking around, not taking himself so seriously, but at the same time he took the job of representing his constituents and job very seriously,” Morfeld told 6 News.
Fellow Councilwoman Aimee Melton also recalled Pahls fondly, telling 6 News about the time he put a giant blow-up turkey in her tiny City Council office for her fall birthday in 2015. She still has the turkey, which she calls “Richard,” and sent Pahls a photo of it in a card to him last Thanksgiving. His response: “Like that problem child, I never go away. Enjoy the day!”
“He made you smile every time you’re with him,” she said.
In a statement issued Wednesday afternoon, Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert offered her sympathies to Pahls’ family and friends, and recalled her years working with Pahls in the Millard Public Schools district, where she served as a board member. “He did his homework and often asked unpopular questions before making decisions and voting,” she said.
Fellow Omaha representative State Sen. Megan Hunt tweeted Wednesday morning about Pahls’ death, calling him “a wise and thoughtful man who exemplified the Nebraska Unicameral at its best. And he loved my dog.”
State Sen. Jen Day, also of Omaha, said Pahls used to affectionately refer to her as a “firecracker” and that she enjoyed his “goofy humor and how he wasn’t afraid to vote his conscience.”
State Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue also recalled Pahls’ devotion to non-partisanship in the state legislature. “He was kind and a great conversationalist,” she tweeted.
Rep. Don Bacon also tweeted a memorial praising Pahls’ dedication to education, calling him “one of the good ways, who would look for a way to bridge the divide.”
Omaha City Council President Pete Festersen said he would miss Pahls’ leadership, noting he “enjoyed stirring the pot, but was always a voice of reason and had a great sense of humor.”
Others involved in Nebraska politics also tweeted tributes to Pahls.
Area organizations for young Republicans also remembered Pahls on Wednesday:
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