Developmentally Disabled Senator Wants To Be Treated Like Any Other Lawmaker

In This Section

Vol 38 Issue 02

Howie Long Expresses Desire To Direct Radio Shack Spots

LOS ANGELES— Pondering his next career move, Radio Shack pitchman and former NFL defensive end Howie Long told reporters Monday that he is interested in directing an upcoming installment of the series of commercials in which he playfully endorses high-tech gadgets with actress Teri Hatcher. "I've given it a lot of thought, and I think I'm ready to get behind the camera," Long said. "I've done the acting thing for a while now, and I just feel like it's time for a new challenge." Long said he could bring the kind of experience and insight to directing the commercials that only comes from having spent countless hours on the set.

Receptionist Takes Leave Of Absence Citing Dehydration, Exhaustion

QUINCY, IL— Citing "dehydration and exhaustion," a spokesperson for Andrea Conklin announced Monday that the Quincy dental receptionist will take an extended leave of absence. "The stress and strain of answering Dr. Taubman's phones all day long has finally taken its toll on Ms. Conklin," spokesman Chris Vinocur said. "Andrea is now in the care of her personal physician, who has recommended that she take two months off to regain her strength." Vinocur denied rumors in last week's National Enquirer that Conklin had checked into a drug-rehabilitation facility.

Consumer Reports Rates Self 'Excellent'

NEW YORK— Consumer Reports magazine earned a rating of "excellent" in its special "Consumer Advocacy Magazines" issue, which hit newsstands Tuesday. "From our exhaustive, unbiased appraisals of all types of consumer products to our clear, concise writing style, Consumer Reports is once again the undisputed winner," the article read. "For the latest in consumer information and product-safety recalls, look no further than us."

Enron Executives Blamed For Missing Employee Donut Fund

HOUSTON— The Enron Corp. scandal widened Monday, when The Houston Chronicle reported that top company executives stole nearly $10 from the employee donut fund sometime between June and August of last year. "There should be at least $9.25 in the coffee can next to the filters," said Laurie Baker, a recently laid-off Enron employee. "I personally put $2.50 into that fund, and now it's gone." Enron CEO Kenneth Lay is already under grand-jury subpoena regarding $45 in Chinese-food-delivery allocations that mysteriously vanished on Nov. 17, 2001.

Confused Marines Capture Al-Jazeera Leader

DOHA, QATAR— In a daring effort to dismantle the vast Arab network, a company of confused Marines raided Al-Jazeera headquarters Monday and captured leader Mohammed Abouzeid. "Al-Jazeera has ties to virtually every country in the Arab world, and this guy was the key to their whole operation," Lt. Warren Withers said. "Nothing went through the Al-Jazeera communications array without his go-ahead." Pentagon officials praised the soldiers for their "courageous and swift action," but noted they would have preferred that the Marines captured someone hostile to the U.S. instead.

Homeless People Shouldn't Make You Feel Sad Like That

I realize not everybody can make mid-six figures like my husband. But just because you're not as fortunate as others, that doesn't give you the right to go around depressing people. That's my problem with the homeless: They spend all their time shuffling around in their tattered, smelly clothes, making you feel awful about having a nice home and job. Well, I don't think they should make you feel sad like that.

Who Do I Have To Blow To Win The Bancroft Prize In American History?

For the past seven years, I have devoted myself wholly to the task of studying the life of William Howard Taft, becoming, in the process, the world's foremost authority on our 27th president. I have delved deeply into both his personal and political history, tracing his journey from a hardscrabble Ohio boyhood to the highest office in the land.
End Of Section
  • More News
TV Listings
Just Like Everything Else!: Fox 8 p.m. EDT/7 p.m. ABC Pete's wife is still on him about building that darn shed, these kids are going to be the death of Sheila and Dave, and the hot next-door neighbor is up in EVERYBODY'S business! Sunday nights on ABC couldn't be any more familiar!

Special Coverage

Race Relations

Fantasy Sports

FIFA Frantically Announces 2015 Summer World Cup In United States

ZURICH—After the Justice Department indicted numerous executives from world soccer’s governing body on charges of corruption and bribery, frantic and visibly nervous officials from FIFA held an impromptu press conference Wednesday to announce that the United States has been selected to host this summer’s 2015 World Cup.

Developmentally Disabled Senator Wants To Be Treated Like Any Other Lawmaker

WASHINGTON, DC—When he was elected to the U.S. Senate in November 2000, Sen. Freddy Rigby (D-NE) knew he had a tough road ahead of him. Developmentally disabled since birth, Rigby's controversial election provoked reactions ranging from misty-eyed admiration to outrage. But to supporters and detractors alike, this very special senator makes one simple request: to be treated just like any other lawmaker.

An excited Rigby (center) poses with Attorney General John Ashcroft and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT).

"I like my job as senator!" said Rigby, speaking from his Georgetown-area group home Monday. "I do good work! I sign everything myself—no stamp! I have a lot of friends in the Senate. Trent [Lott], John [Warner], Charles [Schumer], Dianne [Feinstein], Russ [Feingold], Wayne [Allard], Tom [Daschle]. They're all invited to my house for popcorn! I'm just as good as them, and I want to be treated just like normal."

Rigby, 44, who scored a surprise upset victory over Republican opponent Bruce Linsenmyer in one of the closest elections in Nebraska history, points to his Senate voting record as proof of his qualification to hold public office.

"I sponsored the Everybody Eats Food Bill of 2001, [which makes it illegal for] Americans to go hungry!" Rigby said. "That way, poor people don't have to starve anymore! Lots of mac 'n' cheese... I like that! And I was the first senator [to propose] free weekly field trips to Little Tyrol for the American people. It would be free, 'cause the government would pay for the bus rides!"

Little Tyrol is a recreated Swiss village and amusement park near Lincoln, NE, that Rigby frequents.

"And after the terrorists bombed the Sears Towers, I was the first senator [to draft a resolution calling for professional wrestler] The Rock to go find them and kick their butts!" Rigby said. "Yaay! The Rock!"

In addition to his impressive legislative record, Rigby boasts the best attendance record in the Senate. He is always the first to arrive and the last to leave the Senate chamber, even on days when the legislative body is not in session.

Rigby has also won praise for his concern for the common man.

"At the end of every session, after the other senators have gone home, Freddy will follow me around, asking if he can mop," Capitol custodian Larry Gibson said. "I say, 'Now, come on, Freddy, you're a senator now. You're a lot more important than old Larry here. Why don't you go draft a bill or serve on a committee or something?' He'll usually go away for a while, but then he always comes back carrying a full wastebasket, saying, 'I like to help you, Larry!' He won't leave his limo driver alone, either."

Despite winning the admiration of so many around him, Rigby is not without his critics. A coalition of Democrats and Republicans recently formed out of concern for the senator's ability to hold public office.

"Now, we all like Freddy—everybody in the Senate does," Sen. Tim Hutchinson (R-AR) said. "We love the construction-paper vases and desk placemats he made all of us, as well as the way he puts all his senator stuff away in the multi-colored plastic bins in his office at the end of the day. But does that make him qualified to be a legislator? Should he be in the position to cast the deciding vote on a key Medicare-reform bill? It's just not fair to the American people—or to him."

Some on Capitol Hill have recommended that Rigby be paired up with a "buddy senator," who would advise him and wield veto power on his votes. Rigby, however, has rejected the suggestion, pointing to his previous work experience at an Omaha-area Wendy's as ample evidence of his competence.

"I am just as good as anyone else! I am just as good as anyone else!" Rigby said. "They let Strom Thurmond be senator, and he's 200 years old! I like representing the great state of Nebraska! Nebraska is number one!"

It is clear, however, that the constant questions regarding Rigby's competence have taken their toll on the senator's self-esteem. In November 2001, Rigby ran away from Washington.

"People were being mean to me, and I was very, very sad," Rigby said. "So I ranned [sic] away. I took the bus all by myself for the first time. I saw a Waffle House, and they fed me for free when I said I was a senator. Then they called the police to pick me up. I got to ride in a police car! I've ridden in a police car and a limo and a fire truck [since becoming a senator]!"

Nearly 36 hours after fleeing the nation's capital, Rigby was found by police in Alexandria, VA, and promptly escorted back to Washington. Accompanying the police were several concerned members of the senator's staff and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who befriended Rigby while the two served on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

"Freddy thought people were mad at him and didn't like him, and he was being a little grumpy with the police and his staffers," Boxer said. "So on the car ride back home, I explained to Freddy that there will always be people who won't understand why he's a senator, but that he should know that it's okay to be different. I told him he should be proud of himself and the work he's done in the Senate. That seemed to calm him down quite a bit. He also really seemed to like the Koosh slingshot I gave him."

Janet Fjelstad, a Columbus, NE, legal secretary and longtime Rigby supporter, attributed the senator's improbable rise to "the power of unconditional love."

"People who think developmentally disabled people should be kept out of public office don't understand just how much these very special folks have to offer us," Fjelstad said. "Fortunately, Freddy has a lot of friends—the thousands of people who elected him to the Omaha City Council, then the Omaha mayorality, then the Nebraska Senate, then the U.S. Senate."

Continued Fjelstad: "Many of them were once prejudiced, too. They'd say, 'Why should we give a retarded guy the power to make decisions on vital issues of national import?' But in the end, Freddy's sunny personality, infectious grin, and insistence on making a crayon drawing for every constituent—whether they voted for him or not—won most of his critics over. For the first time, it forced people to seriously question conventional definitions of intelligence and competence. After all, when was the last time a politician engaged your mind and touched your heart?"

Unfazed by the lingering doubts of some, Rigby reaffirmed his commitment to represent the people of Nebraska to the best of his abilities.

"I try hard!" Rigby said. "I'm the hardest worker at my group home! Except for Josh. He works at Popeye's, and he always brings home chicken and biscuits and gravy! I wish I could bring home chicken from my job."

Next Story

Onion Video

Watch More