UNO’s Dr. Randall Adkins Nebraska’s Go-to Source for Political Commentary 6/21/16 06/20/16 11:15:40 PM
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Randall E. Adkins, Ph.D, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, enjoys making himself “available to provide an analytical, non-partisan perspective to area journalists and civic groups.”
UNO’s Dr. Randall Adkins
Nebraska’s Go-to Source for Political Commentary
By Andy Roberts
The Daily Record
It’s the name most local political reporters have on speed-dial.
In a relatively short period of time, the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Dr. Randall Adkins has become a top source for commentary and perspective on the Nebraska political scene.
The West Virginia native has settled into his role on the prairie with ease, arriving at UNO in 2000. On a booming campus in a dynamic city, home to a state with a rich and varied political history, Adkins is the right man in the right spot.
He was a first-generation college student, who grew up in Huntington, W.V., and later graduated with his bachelor’s degree in political science from Marshall University 25 years ago. Four years later he earned his doctorate, also in political science, from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.
The next move took him back to the classroom: after Adkins earned his doctorate, his first job was at Concord College in the mountains of southern West Virginia.
“At that time, my wife, Natalie, decided that she would pursue her Ph.D. in marketing at Virginia Tech,” he recalled. “Five years later, we landed in Omaha.”
His role as a consistent, quality “go-to” source for political analysis in eastern Nebraska, Adkins said, is something he came to naturally enough. “They often say in Washington, ‘the last place you want to be is between a politician and a camera,’” he said. “In my case, you might say the last place you want to be is between a professor and a captive audience.”
All jokes aside, this is not a circumstance in which he found himself by accident.
“Seriously, I want to promote civility and civic discourse in our community,” Adkins said. “So, I make myself available to provide an analytical, non-partisan perspective to journalists and civic groups.”
Just recently, Adkins expanded his role at the university and began a three-year term as associate dean of UNO’s College of Arts and Sciences.
“I’m still a professional political scientist, and I teach an upper-division course every semester,” Adkins explained. “But now my responsibilities also include administration of the affairs of the college.”
Adkins has also broadened his expert insight by participating in the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce’s latest Leadership Omaha class – something he called, “a great experience.”
Adkins said he thought that he knew Omaha pretty well after living in the city since 2000.
“What I didn’t realize was that working with students and living in the suburbs left me relatively insulated from many facets of the city,” he said. “The experiences that our class has shared in Leadership Omaha changed how I see the city and the needs of our citizens and guests.”
Leadership Omaha, Adkins said, provided him with some new tools to connect himself and the UNO community with the larger Omaha community.
When asked for his insight regarding that Omaha community and its political climate, Adkins had much to offer. While some may view Nebraska as a one-party state, Adkins takes a more nuanced approach and looks at the long-term impact of the Cornhusker (or Mavericks) state in the nation’s politics.
“Our city and state have a rich, vibrant political history,” he pointed out. “And, right now, the Second Congressional District is perceived to be one of the most competitive congressional districts in the country.”
Of course, his commentary is not necessarily limited to politics in Nebraska. At the moment, there seems to be no end of material for those who provide perspective on the state of American politics. Our current election cycle is rich with great material.
“We are not in ‘normal’ politics,” Adkins emphasized. “Voters in both parties are frustrated, which is why the Republicans have nominated Donald Trump and the Democrats have taken a 74-year-old democratic socialist [Bernie Sanders] so seriously.”
This situation, he said, is something that has been building for a number of years.
“When surveyed, a majority of Americans have consistently reported in the past decade that they believe the country has been ‘headed in the wrong direction,’” he said.
Adkins pointed out that the move toward the extreme polarization of our national politics started several decades ago, which does not make his job any easier. “It’s difficult to forecast what will happen in the future,” he conceded.
“Over time, the old-time conservative Democrats disappeared from political office (primarily in the South) and were replaced by Republicans,” he said. “Subsequently, politicians in the Democratic Party began to look and act with greater homogeneity, and politicians in the Republican Party did the same.
“This isn’t to say that a conservative Democrat can’t win a congressional seat with a plurality of Republican voters or vice versa when there’s a big ‘wave’ election, but that candidate tends to wash out in the next election cycle.”
This year’s election repeatedly has generated talk of a third party candidate. Adkins said there are always opportunities for such a candidate to make some noise, but history has demonstrated such candidates are not likely to emerge as victorious.
“Third party candidates have influenced election outcomes like Teddy Roosevelt in 1912 or Ross Perot in 1992, but when was the last time a third-party candidate won?” Adkins asked.
Could it happen this year?
“If so, he or she will need to get into the race very, very soon. The filing deadlines to be on ballots in November are looming.”
While Douglas County is a competitive two-party area, Adkins said urban-rural splits are not uncommon, but in many ways the situation is Nebraska is different.
“Many states have an urban-rural divide,” he said. “Some are better and some are worse, but ours is unique in that it is bridged in many respects by the agricultural industry.”
In his spare time, Adkins said he likes to binge-watch political thrillers or documentaries, in addition to spending as much quality time as possible with his family at various sporting events. Adkins and his wife have two teenage sons: the oldest, Ross, is a junior-to-be at Millard North. Ryan is preparing for his freshman year at Westside.
Adkins’ relatively brief time on the UNO campus has been part of a dynamic 20-year transformation of the university, something he was excited to point out.
“We have nationally or regionally ranked academic programs, first-class facilities, and award-winning faculty and staff. I’m super excited to see where we will go in the next 20 years.”
The newly appointed administrator offered some parting thoughts on the dynamic campus in central Omaha.
“To quote a former colleague, if UNL is the ‘flagship’ then UNO is the ‘rocket ship.’ Get on board!”
For more information regarding UNO’s College of Arts and Sciences, please go to: cas.unomaha.edu.