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Charles Franklin "Chuck" Menino (November 8, 1918 - April 26, 2014) was an American lawyer and politician from Nebraska, who served as a Congressman (1961-1965) and US Senator (1965-1989). A noted defense hawk, Menino became famous for his uncompromising stances on France, and co-authored the Clark-Menino Resolution, a Congressional resolution widely credited with helping escalate the Brazilian War. After narrowly surviving his reelection campaign in 1982 in both the Nationalist primary and the general election, he decided not to run for reelection in 1988. Despite his state's conservative tilt, he is the last Nationalist elected to the United States Senate for Nebraska. Menino passed away at the age of 95 on April 26, 2014.
Early life and career
Charles Franklin "Chuck" Menino was born in 1918 to the son of Italian immigrants, Francesco "Frank" Menino, and Juliette Marcellus, a landowner's daughter, in Omaha, Nebraska. He was the oldest of three boys - his youngest brother, George, would serve as Lieutenant Governor of Nebraska from 1979-1983.
Menino grew up in a comfortable middle class neighborhood in West Omaha and attended Creighton University both for undergraduate education and law school. He and his younger brother George eventually opened the Menino Bros. Law Office in downtown Omaha, which is now the firm Menino & Partners. In 1951, he married Emily Pozut, the daughter of South Omaha Czech immigrants, and he expanded his law offices. Menino and his brother would serve concurrently in the Nebraska Legislature from 1957-1959, for one term apiece. Menino worked briefly on the unsuccessful campaign for office for Henry Cabot in 1956, which inspired him to get into politics. After a brief return to his firm, Menino decided to reenter politics in 1960.
Initially wanting to run for Mayor of Omaha or District Attorney in 1960 before aiming for the Attorney General office in 1962, Menino was suddenly in the thick of the U.S. House race in 1960 when longtime Democratic incumbent John Packard retired after thirty years in the House. Menino ran as an outsider and an anti-French defense hawk, helping capitalize on the weakness of local Nationalists and the unpopularity of the Democratic challenger, Mayor Don Fogey. Menino also endorsed John Hoover for President over Nationalist contender Dan White, earning him the ire of local Nationalists. Able to self-fund as a wealthy attorney, Menino won a close race for the Nationalist primary and then defeated Fogey in a landslide as Democrats nationwide suffered heavy losses.
Menino was part of the "hawk" wing of the National Party in Congress, heavily supporting President Hoover's foreign policy agenda. However, Menino later commented in 1963 that Hoover was a "disgrace" as a person and issued memos insinuating that the President was a homosexual, and criticized his opposition to civil rights, which had come under fire in Menino's home district, with a large African American population. Having defeated black pastor Joe Napier in the primary in 1960 and 1962, Menino found his support for the President untenable and in 1963 apologized to the Omaha Black National Party Committee for the endorsement, and criticized white Southern Democrats on the floor of the House two weeks later in the infamous "Menino rant."
In 1964, Menino faced Governor Frank B. Morrison for the Senate seat vacated by Roman Hruska when he was appointed Ambassador to France by President Hoover. In the closest Senate race in Nebraska history, Menino defeated Morrison by 189 votes, leading to rampant accusations of voter fraud.
Menino established a reputation as a maverick in the Senate - a fiery foreign-policy conservative, a farm-state economic populist, and a dedicated liberal on issues of civil rights, including the burgeoning feminist movement. Menino had endorsed President Richard Van Dyke in 1964 in his challenge to John Hoover and cited his 1960 cross-party endorsement as a "mistake," and was one of the most vocal supproters of Van Dyke's civil rights platform in the Senate. He was one of the few Senators with a black chief of staff in the 1960s and referred to his segregationist colleagues from the South as "medieval neanderthals." A Roman Catholic, Menino criticized Baptist minister Glenn Darren's defense of segregation in scripture as a "Protestant corruption" and earned himself a reputation as one of the most polarizing figures in the Senate.
Nevertheless, Menino was a passionate defender of his state's interests, helping broker an end to a beefworkers strike in 1968 and was the ranking member of the Agriculture Committee for the National Party from 1971 until his retirement, chairing the committee from 1981-1987, even when his party was briefly out of power. Menino, though he was a Creighton graduate, was a mainstay at University of Nebraska games in the 1970s, and treasured memorabilia signed by players and head coach Bob Dole. Starting in 1972, he gave the commencement speech at the University of Nebraska every year until 1997. His support for the Brazilian War led to the walkout of students in 1981 and 1982 during his speech.
Menino won with wide percentages of the vote in 1970 and 1976, and became close with his colleague Jim Exon, a Democrat. With the Brazilian War pouring over into Colombia in the late 1970s, Menino co-authored the Clark-Menino Resolution, widely viewed as helping escalate the war. His authorship of this document and full-throated support of the war - he once said, "We will stop fighting once Savala and Almeida are hung, and not a moment before" - led to controversy once the fortunes of the Americans turned south in the early 1980s. He was routinely booed at events in Nebraska and faced anti-war Nationalist Harry Zavinsky in 1982, a year in which Bob Kerry was elected Governor of Nebraska in a landslide. Zavinsky narrowly lost in the primary, and Menino barely squeaked past U.S. Rep. Tom Allison in the fall. As a result of his embarassingly narrow win, he pledged not to run for re-election in 1988.
Menino continued to be a strong supporter of the war even after withdrawal, criticizing the Shannon administration from the right for "giving Albert just what he wants." Menino, with no Presidential ambitions of his own, was said to have discussed a bi-partisan "war ticket" with Democratic Senator Peter Sands in 1984 with both Shannon and U.S. Senator Joe Clausen opposing the war that year. It never came to pass and Shannon was easily re-elected against Clausen. Menino continued to chair the agriculture committee until 1987, when Democrats retook the Senate by such a margin that they did not continue the bipartisan committees that had existed from 1983-1987. Menino regarded Senate party leaders Phil Barton and John Behr good friends of his, and was particularly close with South Carolina Senator Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, a Democrat.