It was in Beaver City in 1885 that Geogre Norris began to put down roots and develop a successful professional career. He met and married Pluma Lashley, daughter of a locally prominent citizen and mill owner. They had three children together. Over the next decade and a half Norris prospered as he developed his law practice and speculated in land. He built a building in Beaver City and began his life of public service. The Norris and Lashley homes are still standing. The Norris Building no longer exists.
In 1892 Norris was elected prosecuting attorney for Furnas County and three years later was elected district judge for Nebraska's Fourteenth District. To be closer to the center of his district Norris moved to McCook in 1899 and bought the house at 706 Main Avenue (now Norris Avenue) that would be his home until he died in 1944.
In 1901 tragedy struck when Norris's wife, Pluma, died leaving George with three young daughters to raise. Many lesser men would have withdrawn, but not George Norris. The next year he ran for the United States House of Representatives and won. In 1903 Norris married again. His new wife was a local schoolteacher and principal, Ellie Leonard. She was to be his lifelong companion.
Norris spent ten years representing his district in the House of Representatives. In 1910, during his fifth term in the House, Norris launched a campaign to end what he believed to be an undemocratic practice. The Speaker of the House was entitled to control the flow of all bills that were introduced because he controlled the committee on rules.
In 1910 the Speaker was "Boss" Joseph Cannon, a Republican who ruled with an iron fist. After a bitter floor debate and skillful parliamentary maneuvering led by Norris, a group of reformers from both parties passed a resolution limiting the Speaker's autocratic powers. Norris had broken ranks with his party over an ethical question and earned a reputation as a man of integrity. Back home the Nebraskans who had elected Norris to the House of Representatives rewarded his crusading efforts by nominating and then electing him to the Senate in 1912. For the next thirty years Norris used his position in the Senate to fight to improve the lives of farmers and working people.
In 1917, as the United States was preparing to enter World War I, Norris once again found himself on the unpopular side of an issue. Based on his feelings that pro-war sentiment was being promoted by big business, he voted against U.S. entry into the conflict. For this act of conscience he was vilified throughout the nation and at home. He returned to Nebraska to confront his critics. When he addressed Nebraskans he said simply, "I have come home to tell you the truth," and honestly explained his feelings and beliefs. After his address, Nebraskans responded with respect and enthusiasm for his honesty and they again returned him to the Senate.
In the early years of his public life George Norris was a leader of the wing of the Republican Party known as the Progressives. The Progressives believed that government needed to become more responsive to the needs of the ordinary citizen. For most of Norris's career as a senator he promoted Progressive values, even long after the movement had ceased to be popular. One of the Progressive causes Norris championed was the "Lame Duck" amendment to the Constitution. Written and sponsored by Norris, the Twentieth Amendment eliminated the lame duck sessions of Congress in which outgoing members continued to hold office and vote for four months before the newly elected members took their seats. This amendment applied to both houses of Congress as well as to the offices of President and Vice-President.
In Nebraska George Norris promoted the concept of the non-partisan, one-house legislature-the Unicameral. He believed that a one-house system would curb abuses of the conference committees. These committees allowed the ruling party to rewrite legislation to favor its own positions. In 1934 Nebraska voters enthusiastically endorsed the idea and in 1937 Nebraska became the first and only state to have a unicameral legislature.
During the mid-1930s Norris led the effort to create two federal programs that have had far-reaching effects on America's rural population. In 1933 the law creating the Tennessee Valley Authority passed, culminating a twelve year effort by Norris. The TVA was a plan to build dams on the Tennessee River and its tributaries to control flooding and to generate low-cost electricity.
Norris also sponsored legislation that called for bringing electricity to rural areas throughout the country. The Rural Electrification Act stipulated that power generation and delivery systems would be owned by the public for the common good, instead of by private companies. This was a very controversial idea in the 1930s. Automobile giant Henry Ford and other industrialists criticized Norris for introducing a plan that they considered socialistic and therefore un-American.
Norris defended his plan: "Every stream in the United States that flows from the mountains through the meadows to the sea has the possibility of producing electricity for cheap power and cheap lighting. This natural resource was given by an all-wise Creator to His people and not to organizations of greed."
The Tennessee Valley Authority and the Rural Electrification Act were George Norris's finest hours as a United States Senator. He believed that the controversy that surrounded them and the criticism that was leveled at him was a price well worth paying. The legislation's benefits to America's farmers seem unremarkable today. But in the 1930s life on a farm with no electricity was not much improved over what it had been in the Middle Ages-long days of back-breaking labor for both men and women.
As the United States entered the Great Depression of the 1930s, Norris once again faced difficult moral choices. In 1932 George Norris broke ranks with the Republican Party. The issue was Franklin Delano Roosevelt's candidacy for President. Norris believed that Roosevelt, a Democrat, would be better for the common people than conservative Republican Herbert Hoover. Norris campaigned for Roosevelt and suffered the wrath of the Republicans. In Norris's next election of 1936 he ran as an Independent and was returned to the Senate.
In 1942 George Norris was seeking his sixth term as a senator. In this election he was running as an Independent for the second time. This time Norris wasn't as fortunate. For the first time since 1902 Nebraska voters failed to send him back to Washington. His political career was over and he came home to McCook.
Less than two years later, on September 2, 1944, George Norris died. He was buried in the McCook Cemetery.
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