David Karnes, Omaha civic leader, briefly U.S. senator, dies

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — David Karnes, an Omaha civic leader who was briefly a U.S. senator, has died at the age of 71.

Karnes died Sunday of cancer in Boston, where he was undergoing a clinical trial, The Omaha World-Herald reported.

In March 1987, then-Gov. Kay Orr shocked Nebraska Republicans by appointing Karnes to fill the unexpired terms of Democrat Ed Zorinsky, who had died of a heart attack. Karnes was 38 at the time and had never run for office.

He sought a full term in 1988 but lost to Democrat Bob Kerrey and never again sought political office.

He worked as an attorney in both Omaha and Washington. He was the principal federal legislative and executive branch lobbyist for the Kutak Rock law firm for 28 years. He also served on numerous civic organizations and founded Liz’s Legacy, a charity for cancer research to honor of his first wife, who died of cancer in 2003.

Most recently, he helped Omaha negotiate for a portion of federal coronavirus funding that was appropriated to Douglas County.

Numerous Nebraska political figures, including Gov. Pete Ricketts and U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, issued statements Sunday praising Karnes for his lifetime of service to Nebraska.

Karnes is survived by wife Kris and six daughters. Funeral services are pending.