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Frank Morrison, 98; Governor of Nebraska for Three Terms in 1960s

April 20, 2004|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Frank Morrison, an antiVietnam War Democrat who was elected governor three times in predominantly Republican Nebraska in the 1960s, has died. He was 98.

Morrison died of cancer at a hospital in McCook, Neb.

Despite his opposition to the war, he served three two-year terms as governor from 1961 to 1967, a period when the war was escalating and still popular in the heartland. He won over the state's largely conservative Republican voters with sheer charisma.

"Frank Morrison was just one of those individuals that as you got to know him, you couldn't help but like him whether you were a Democrat or a Republican," said Jim Exon, a former Nebraska governor and U.S. senator.

As governor, Morrison started the state's tourism program, chose the route for Interstate 80 through the Platte River Valley and introduced the state's income tax. He also has been credited with making Nebraska politically more of a two-party state.

Morrison, whose dream was to serve in Congress, declined to seek a fourth term as governor at the request of then-President Lyndon B. Johnson. The president asked him, instead, to challenge incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Carl Curtis.

But he lost that race as he did every other bid he made for the Senate or House of Representatives from 1948 to 1970.

While in his 90s, Morrison realized a longtime dream, raising $60 million to build the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument over Interstate 80 at Kearny. Completed in 2000, the monument marks the convergence of the Oregon, Mormon and California trails, which carried pioneers through Nebraska and on west.

In his final years, he continued his lifelong opposition to the death penalty and was outspoken against the war in Iraq, commenting at a demonstration last year: "Some people think what we're doing in Iraq is legal. Well, it's absolutely unconstitutional and illegal."

Born in Golden, Colo., Morrison grew up in Kansas and graduated from the University of Nebraska College of Law. He taught history, practiced law and was elected a county prosecutor.

Morrison's wife of 67 years, Maxine, died March 18. Their survivors include two sons and a daughter.

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