The last time Grand Island, Neb., Local 1597 Business Manager Dan Quick was elected to a government position was his successful campaign for Hordville High School student president.

Quick with wife Alice canvassing with his children James, Ciara and Brooklyn.

Nearly 40 years later, Quick added Nebraska state senator to his resume.

“To be honest, I wish I had taken public speaking in high school,” Quick said.

Two years ago, Quick was approached by two state senators. They asked him to consider running.

They’d gotten to know Quick over the years when he testified or lobbied about issues of importance to his membership, a mixture of utility and local government workers spread across the western half of the state.

The senators believed that Quick, a welder and mechanic at the city’s Platte Generating Station, would be a potent voice for working families in the unicameral, non-partisan legislative body. His blue collar would stick out, they thought, in a 49-member body which is otherwise a sea of bankers, businessmen and lawyers.

Although he had never run for public office, since his election as vice president of Local 1597 in 2007, he had taken on some high-profile positions in the Nebraska Democratic party, including vice chair of the Hall County Democrats, and becoming a delegate to the State Central Committee for the state Democratic Party. He was also deeply involved in the local labor leadership, serving as president of the Nebraska State Utility Workers Conference, vice president of the Central Nebraska Central Labor Council and a member of the Grand Island Knights of Columbus.

He decided it was worth a shot.                        

Nebraska is one of the least diverse states in the union, but you wouldn’t know that looking at the 37,000 people living in Quick’s district. It is home to more than half of Grand Island’s residents, from some of the city’s wealthiest families to the Sudanese, Somali, Latino and Asian immigrants, most of whom work at the local packing plant.

Quick on his first day in the legislative chamber.

To win his race, Quick took what he had learned from organizing campaigns in this right-to-work state. It takes meeting people where they are, listening and then being straight with them in return, one door at a time.

In just over two years, Quick says he and his wife knocked on 10,000 doors. And he did it after his shift at the power plant ended.

“This is not a big political town. People here have not had many candidates come to their door and that made an impression,” Quick said. “When I went door to door, I said ‘I am just like you. We may work with our hands but we deserve a voice.’”

Quick says his most effective spokesperson was his wife, Alice, a labor and delivery nurse for nearly 40 years who, Quick says, knew every mother and grandmother in the city. She was so effective, the one TV ad they ran featured her.

Members of his local and the organized labor community in Nebraska came out in force for him as well, making calls, addressing mailers and visiting another 5,000 houses. They also helped him raise more than $130,000, more than his opponent who was getting money from the state Republican Party and the arch-conservative billionaire Gov. Pete Ricketts.

In the closest Nebraska state legislative race last year, Quick beat his opponent, Republican lawyer Gregg Neuhaus, by 75 votes out 15,000 cast.

Jan. 3, the day before the legislative session began, was his last day as business manager and his final day on the job. He retired from the Platte generating plant to focus on his new job, speaking for and listening to the people of Grand Island.

But he’s keeping his card, still paying dues.

“I get a lot of respect because I am a welder,” Quick said. “There are plenty of people to speak up for the bankers’ and business owners’ side. I’m here to make sure the workers get heard too.”