With many families, the son follows the father into the business. For Philip and Steve Erdman, it was Philip who first got into state politics, 16 years before his father.
“It wasn’t really my idea to run for state senate,” Philip said. “My family was part of a case that dealt with eminent domain and property rights. My parents couldn’t make it to Lincoln for the legislative hearing. Because I was in college at Lincoln, they asked me to testify for them.”
Some of the attendees from Morrill County were impressed and starting suggesting Philip could be their representative.
“My father had been on the school board, but we’d never been involved in a political campaign,” Philip said. “I looked at the issues I cared about and talked with lots of people before I decided to run.”
Philip joined the state Legislature for the 2001 session at the age of 23. And many topics, like taxation, remain a big issue.
“We had budget shortfalls back then just like we do now,” Philip said. “We fought for tax reform while others were trying to raise taxes. I offered a comprehensive rewrite of the budget one year to prevent a tax increase. It got 19 votes, but it changed the budget direction that year.”
Because of term limits, Philip finished out his career in 2008. From there, he went to work for six years as state ag director and deputy state director for U.S. Senator Mike Johann’s Nebraska office.
When Johanns decided to not seek a second term, Philip moved on to the Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation in 2014. As vice president of membership, he works with county farm bureaus to promote the ag industry.
“My greatest accomplishment as a state senator was meeting my wife,” he said. “That bill can’t be repealed.”
After Philip left office, Ken Schilz of Ogallala served eight years as District 47 state senator. When the seat opened again due to term limits in 2016, Philip asked his father if he’d consider running.
“Philip had asked me about running back in 2000, but I wasn’t ready,” Steve said. “Figuring in all the work state senators do, they get paid about 85 cents an hour.”
Steve completed his first session in the state Legislature in June. But his dedication to serving his community goes back much farther.
For most of his adult life, he’s been a resident of Morrill County and spent more than 40 years in the farming business.
“Back in the early ‘70s my oldest son was starting school and it was obvious to me the children weren’t getting a decent education,” he said. “That’s how I got started on the school board.”
Elected to the District 73 Rural Morrill School Board, he served four years. The next 12 years, he served on the Bayard School Board.
In 2005, Steve was elected as a Morrill County commissioner, serving another 12 years on that board.
Providing quality service while holding the line on spending can be challenging for a county commissioner. When the single elevator in the courthouse began to fail, board members were told it would cost $10,000 to fix.
As a farmer, Steve said he looked at the motor to see if he could figure out the problem. He found a worn bearing, so they hired an electrician to rewind the motor, clean it up and reinstall it. The job cost the county about $400.
“That was my attitude as a commissioner,” Steve said. “It’s the people’s money and I need to look after it as if it were my own.”
Property taxes, along with unfunded mandates from the state have hampered the state’s potential growth. “I thought if there was ever an opportunity for me to try to rectify some of those problems, I would give it a try,” Steve said.
That opportunity came in 2016 when the District 47 seat in the Nebraska Legislature opened up.
“I’ve been representing people for at least 40 years and I’ve always believed it’s good to give back to the community,” he said.
Elected office is just part of where he’s been involved. Steve was on the Farmland Industries Board, the Nebraska Cooperative Council, the Nebraska Association of County Officials, a charter member of the Stateline Bean Cooperative, a board member of Panhandle Coop and many more.
He said for every problem the state faces, there are a variety of opinions on the solution.
“There are some senators who think the answer to fix everything is always government,” he said. “I’ve discovered that in Lincoln, common sense is a flower that doesn’t grow in everyone’s garden.”
Steve said going forward, it’s mandatory for the state to fix the tax system.
“We have all kinds of programs in place to alleviate burdensome taxes and entice businesses here,” he said. “If we get government to its proper size and have a better structure to control spending, we won’t need all those gimmicks.”
Steve added that one thing is clear — the state’s economy can’t be expected to grow when property taxes are the fifth highest in the nation.
“You want that kind of ranking in football, not property taxes,” Philip said.