Throughout our 20th Anniversary year in 2016, we are taking a look back at the influential people who helped Nebraska Appleseed grow into the advocacy organization we are today. These “Roots of Appleseed” helped shape our mission of fighting for justice and opportunity for all Nebraskans.
Read our prior entries in the Roots of Appleseed series:
The paths of Nebraska Appleseed and Eric Hallstrom crossed only briefly in the summer of 1999, but the experience left
an indelible mark on the native Nebraskan, who after Appleseed, made a career out of public service and public interest law.
“I think Appleseed represents an important idea that underpins public interest law—that everybody deserves a fair shake, that we can always do better by our friends, neighbors, colleagues, and employees,” said Hallstrom, now the Deputy Commissioner of Minnesota Management and Budget. “Every Nebraskan, and really everyone, should be able to have a meaningful voice in public decision making and be able to hold public officials accountable—and what’s why we’ll always need public interest firms like Appleseed.”
In the summer of 1999, Eric Hallstrom had a gap in his calendar. He had finished his first year at the University of Iowa College of Law and wanted to find a summer clerkship before studying abroad that fall.
Through a friendship with Dan Friedman, the son of Appleseed board member and long-time Lincoln attorney Herb Friedman, Eric got connected to Appleseed’s founding executive director Milo Mumgaard. Milo immediately put Eric to work on what would be one of Appleseed’s first efforts to fight for hard-working families.
Eric helped draft a living wage ordinance that eventually was passed in both Lincoln and Omaha. The ordinances required contractors who did business with the cities to pay their employees a living wage that ensured they would not need public assistance to meet their basic needs.
“It’s a pretty easy and common-sense proposition,” Hallstrom said. “This is about the city making a choice about who it does work with. The city shouldn’t subsidize a contractor’s work twice.”
Eric returned to law school with a passion for Legislative advocacy that has carried him to an impressive resume. Upon graduation, he clerked for Judge Donald Lay, the former chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in St. Paul, Minnesota. Then, followed a fellowship with Georgetown University’s Law School where he taught federal legislation to other aspiring advocates.
Following Georgetown, Eric returned to public service as legislative counsel to South Dakota Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin, where he helped staff the office of the state’s only U.S. Representative. “It’s really, really diverse work, and you learn a ton about your district’s challenges and issues,” he said.
After a year of “good, old-fashioned lawyering” with D.C. firm Woodley and McGillivary, where he represented public sector unions, Eric made stops as an attorney for the Federal Election Commission and the U.S. Department of Labor.
In April 2015, Eric returned to the Twin Cities where he now works to make sure the public services of Minnesotans run smoothly and state government functions effectively.
The common thread of Eric Hallstrom’s career has been working to make sure a government of the people is working by and for the people. That’s an idea that needs to be fought for and protected, he said, and he’s proud to see there are people still fighting to protect that principle in Nebraska.
“It’s impressive to me that Appleseed is thriving in Nebraska as one of the high points of public policy,” he said. “Not enough of our public officials in Nebraska are listening to the voices of the less powerful. The result is that far too often, government does not effectively respond to the needs of a huge number of Nebraskans. Thankfully, there are other leaders they can turn to, and Appleseed is at the forefront of that.”