Nebraskans celebrate new governor at inaugural ball
Jim Pillen talks about the road ahead at event that paid homage to state’s agricultural sector.
OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Local and state officials and dignitaries joined a crowd of more than 3,500 people gathered Saturday night at CHI Health Center arena to celebrate Jim Pillen at the new governor’s inaugural ball.
Pillen’s background colored much of his address at the event. He spoke about his late father, a tenant farmer in the days before irrigation.
“Many years, he and mom risked everything they had just to plant a crop with the faith for a good harvest,” Pillen said. “You talk about risk-taking; tenant farming was very hard and physical, and guys like my dad had to struggle just to eke out a living.”
The governor relayed a story about his father, talking about how his dad would joke that FFA — the acronym for the Future Farmers of America, a longtime national agricultural organization for youth — actually stood for “Father Farms Alone,” as he didn’t think his sons would be able to thrive as farmers in Nebraska. The governor choked up, pausing a moment at the podium to collect himself, as he talked about what his father would say if he could see their farm operation now; Pillen Family Farms, based in Columbus, has grown into a major pork-producing operation.
The meal itself showcased the state’s agricultural sector: Frenched bone-in center-cut pork loin chops were provided by Wholestone Farms in Fremont, paired with tri-color roasted potatoes provided by CSS Farms based in Columbus, where the governor resides. Themed “Nebraska Day by Day, Better and Better,” Saturday night’s event was open to the public, with reserved tables available but general seating prices running $75 for dinner and all the festivities or $25 for dessert and everything that followed.
Saturday night’s event was organized by his wife, First Lady Suzanne Pillen, and their daughter Sarah. After welcoming attendees to the event, the first lady introduced her husband, who expressed his gratitude for her support alongside him on the campaign trail and talked about how much people responded to her presence there.
“The last two years, she’s been with me lots and lots of places, and the thing that so incredibly consistent would be there’d be a lot of times people would meet me and go ‘Pillen, you know, I don’t know about you; but my gosh, your wife would be a phenomenal first lady, don’t you?’” he said.
The governor’s speech was peppered with applause, whether he was heralding his favorite places from across the state or talking about the road ahead.
“We face a few challenges. We face a choice that every one of us can make every day: We can either decide to get better or we can get worse. There’s no such thing as staying the same. ‘Day by day, together, we get better and better.’ That’s the spirit that built this state, the most incredible place in the world. I love Nebraska.”
Pillen also acknowledged those gearing up to play a role in his administration.
“We are building an incredible team that’s gonna work harder than heck for Nebraskans every single day,” he said.
Team Pillen has been rolling out announcements as the governor made his cabinet selections, retaining many of the same people who served under former Gov. Pete Ricketts.
The governor hailed the innovation and technological advancements happening in the state, and encouraged attendees to appreciate all the opportunities available “right here in Nebraska.”
“Those lyrics, ‘There is no place like Nebraksa’ have never ever been truer. There’s never been a better time to be a Nebraskan than now,” he said.
“It’s going to take all of us pulling in the same direction. That’s the only way we’ll tackle the challenges our state faces. We all have to put our parochial interests aside and commit to do what’s best for our entire state and all of our kids.”
Concluding his speech ahead of the procession of state officials and dignitaries, Pillen offered a suggestion for a new state motto.
“Let me leave you with this: We are Nebraska. We are Nebraska. We are Nebraska, where great people want to live. That might be a good new slogan maybe, wouldn’t you say?”
Following the governor and first lady of Nebraska in the “Grand March” procession were Sen. Deb Fischer, Rep. Mike Flood, Rep. Don Bacon, and Rep. Adrian Smith and their spouses as well as former Gov. Pete Ricketts and former First Lady Susanne Shore, and former governors Mike Johanns, who also served as Ben Nelson, and Kay Orr. Nebraska University Ted Carter and his wife, several state senators from across the political spectrum, and Nebraska Supreme Court justices were also part of the procession, as were Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert and her husband.
Following the procession and a video presentation, the Pillens returned to the stage for a dance, selecting the song “What a Wonderful World.” Event-goers were invited to do their own dancing on the other side of the Grand Hall, with the event slated to end at 11:30 p.m.
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