Nebraska Legislature

Blurt and Ernie (e)

In a perfect world, Ernie Chambers could make his points without controversial hyperbole.

During a recent committee hearing in the Nebraska Legislature, State Senator Ernie Chambers said “My ISIS is the police. Nobody from ISIS ever terrorized us as a people as the police do us daily. And they get away with it.”  In the same remarks, Chambers said that he does not own a gun, but if he did, he would use it for protection against the police:  “I would want to shoot him first and ask questions later, as they say the cop ought to do.”

Naturally, Chambers’ remarks have been denounced and criticized by fellow senators, Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts, police chiefs and unions, and people all across Nebraska.  The story drew national headlines after an article on Nebraska Watchdog was picked up by Fox News.

It’s pretty easy* to condemn Chambers for these outlandish comments.  No police force in the United States comes close to the heinous acts of violence and terror committed by ISIS.  It’s unthinkable for any elected official to suggest violence against police officers.  Therefore, the condemnation has been loud and prolonged – to the point where a state senator interrupted a parade of floor speeches attacking Chambers with an admonition to “get on with the people’s business.”

*Not to be lost in the rebukes of Chambers – especially from those calling for his censure or resignation – is the fact that Nebraska’s longest-serving senator is not a popular figure in the state.  Chambers is widely regarded as a master of Unicameral’s rules and procedures, and he regularly uses them to kill bills that he disagrees with.  One of the first, and loudest voices in this current controversy belongs to Senator Beau McCoy, who has been on the receiving end of Chambers’ ire.  

I’m not saying that this controversy is without merit, nor that McCoy is only pushing the issue because he has a grudge with Chambers.  But I do think that some of the people calling for Chambers to resign are being opportunistic having sensed a rare chance to have a thorn in their side removed.  It can easily be argued that Nebraska’s term limits legislation, approved by voters in 2000, was directed at removing Chambers from office.

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There is an uncomfortable truth about Ernie Chambers’ ISIS comments:  In the context of the remarks, he kind of has a point.

Consider:

The comments took place during testimony on LB635, which would allow concealed carry permit holders the right to carry a concealed handgun in an establishment deriving 1/2 of profits from alcohol – i.e. most bars and restaurants.  You can watch the hearing in question here:  (Skip forward to the 51:00 mark).

During the testimony, State Senator Tommy Garrett was asked “what are (concealed carry advocates) afraid of?”  Senator Garrett’s response references ISIS and the Taliban.  I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a bar or restaurant in Nebraska – particularly in the small towns west of Lincoln – but the odds of running into a member of any international terror group in say, Kimball or Neligh are Powerball-esque.

In his remarks, Senator Chambers referenced two former Lincoln Police Department officers who were dismissed for excessive force.  According to Chambers, one was recruited by the Nebraska State Patrol, and the other by the Lancaster County Sheriff.  Chambers, a black man representing a largely African-American district in Omaha, also noted the racism that can occur on police forces.

In my mind, the point Senator Chambers was trying to make is that for many people (particularly people of color in his district), they are much more likely to be injured, shot, or killed by a member of law enforcement than by ISIS or any other terrorist group.

With all due respect to the friends and acquaintances I have who serve honorably in various Nebraska law enforcement agencies, I would agree with that presumed point.  I’m in no way implying that cops in this state are dirty, racist, or seek out opportunities to be violent.  It’s just that compared to Senator Garrett’s example of ISIS as a justification for expanding concealed carry rights, the police do represent a bigger threat to the safety of citizens.

That may not be easy to hear, and you may not choose to believe it.  It’s definitely not an absolute truth, but one would be foolish to pretend racism and excessive force doesn’t exist.  In my mind, the police are far less of a threat than drug users, gang members, and the mentally unstable.  But of course, I’m a 40-year-old white guy who lives in southeast Lincoln – not a 20-year-old black man in north Omaha, so my worldview is limited.

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Does the possibility that Ernie Chambers had a legitimate point – whether or not you agree with it – excuse or dismiss what he said?

No.  They don’t.  And that is where Senator Chambers failed.

Chambers’ claim of two officers excused for excessive force being recruited by other law enforcement agencies is, if true, rather concerning to me.  But those claims have been all but lost in the coverage of this incident.  Why?  Because of bombastic and hyperbolic nature of the “my ISIS is the police” sound bite.

A handful of people saw through the rhetoric of a man who once tried to sue God.  Former Lincoln chief of police, Tom Casady, tweeted that Chambers was “far more likely to give birth than shoot a police officer.”  Another senator, Les Seiler, said the remarks were “Ernie being Ernie”.  But this time, Chambers went too far in an attempt to make his point.

In today’s society, the media and the public will focus on the outrageous (and our need to be outraged) than on things that may truly be wrong.

In a perfect world, Senator Chambers could make his points without stirring up a tornado of controversy.

 

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(Author’s note:  Wondering why there is a random letter in parentheses in the title of this post?  Not sure how this post corresponds to the daily letter in the April A to Z Challenge?  Like clicking on links?  These questions are all answered here.)

Elect This!

With today’s midterm elections, here are some random election thoughts:

  • As I’ve previously noted, the worst part of living in a cable-free household is the lack of sports on TV.  However, the best part is zero campaign ads.  Seriously, the last one I saw was on YouTube, and I only watched that for blog material.
  • You remember how ticked off you were at the partisan gridlock and petty maneuvering that shut down the government?  Remember how you said at the next election you were going to vote out all of the incumbents?  Are you going to stick with that, or vote for the incumbent (who happens to represent your party)?  Um-hmm.  I thought so.  Next time, just shut it and realize that you continue to play a part in keeping Congress ineffective.
  • A Facebook friend shared a picture of a political mailer she received from a candidate.  This candidate touted his strong Catholic faith and reminded you that a vote for him is a Pro-Life vote.  In theory, no big deal.  Nebraska is a conservative state that values religion, and as any politico can tell you, “pro-life” is the highest level of endorsement a Nebraska politician can hope to achieve, ahead of a personal recommendation from legendary football coach Tom Osborne.  But here’s the kicker:  this candidate is not running for Congress, Senate, or the state legislature.  He’s not running for governor, mayor, or the University Board of Regents (we’ll get to that race next).  This candidate is running for the board of the Omaha Public Power District – the electric utility in Omaha.  I don’t follow a lot of the issues facing the OPPD board, but I’m guessing none of them deal with abortion or moral issues where one’s faith would be a deciding factor.  To base a vote on a single issue that is so far outside the jurisdiction of the office is asinine.  As another friend commented:  ” I personally have always felt that I could never turn off my electricity, but others should have the choice to do so if they wanted to.

    Seriously. Do it.

  • In a similar vein, the race for the University of Nebraska Board of Regents has also been impacted by issues that are way outside of the jurisdiction of the office.  Allegedly, after Nebraska football coach Bo Pelini lost his mind during last year’s home loss to Iowa, Lincoln businessman (and former Husker) Steve Glenn called the regent representing him and demanded that Pelini be fired.  When informed that the Board of Regents did not have the authority to fire football coaches, Glenn allegedly told incumbent Rob Schafer that he would “run for your position“.  Since then, mailings have come out saying that Glenn wants Pelini fired – thereby implying that if you support the coach (and hey, they’re 8-1 right now), you had better vote for the incumbent.  Even if Glenn is only running because he wants Pelini ousted (something I’m not sure I believe) I resent dragging sports into the political mud.  Unfortunately, Pelini is already enough of a polarizing figure in this state without making him an unwilling pawn in a race within the confines of the 402 area code.
  • One other amusing side note from this Board of Regents race:  during the primary, Glenn ran a radio ad featuring Larry the Cable Guy talking him up.  (Both Glenn and Larry’s alter ego Dan Whitney are from Pawnee City, Nebraska).  In the ad, Larry mentions something to the effect that “anything that comes out of Pawnee City has got to be good.”.  It turns out that Glenn’s opponent (incumbent Rob Schafer) is also from Pawnee City.  Whoops, that’s not the best way to git ‘er done.
  • Nebraskans will vote on a proposal to raise the minimum wage.  I’m not going to tell you how to vote, as there are definite economic impacts either way.  But when I hear about efforts to raise the minimum wage, I think of an early episode of the documentary series 30 Days, where host Morgan Spurlock and his fiancée spent 30 days trying to live on minimum wage.  They did it, but it looked absolutely miserable.  I wonder if the most vocal opponents of raising the wage have any exposure to what life is like at $7.25 an hour.
  • I’ll close with a reminder of my favorite reason why you should vote today:  it gives you the unalienable right to bitch about politics, politicians, and partisan bull for the next two years.  Plus, many polling places will give you an “I Voted Today” sticker.

Rejected Nebraska Tourism Slogans

A bill (LB 1024) was introduced in the Nebraska Legislature that would erase Nebraska’s official state slogan and allow the Nebraska Tourism Commission to create a new slogan and symbol.

Even though the current official state slogan is the little known (and rarely used) “Welcome to NEBRASKAland: Where the West Begins”, this bill has raised fears as many believe the state’s unofficial slogan (“The Good Life”) will also be chopped.

Setting aside the governmental ridiculousness that a bill must be passed to change a slogan to allow the tourism folks to sell Nebraska as a vacation destination, I’m perfectly okay with getting rid of “Where the West Begins.”  Let’s face it, the fine people on the Nebraska Tourism Commission don’t exactly have an easy job and we should do pretty much anything we can do to help them out.

But if they are going to replace “The Good Life” – which has appeared on the “Welcome to Nebraska” signs for decades – it had better be with something good.  Here are some ideas that may or may not make it out of legislative committee:

  • The Neither Good Nor Bad Life
  • Lots of cows, but no bull
  • Welcome to NEBRASKAland:  Where bureaucracy begins!
  • Nebraska – Enjoy our toll-free highways on your way to somewhere else!
  • Democrat free since 2004!
  • Welcome to Nebraska – Kindly refrain from discussing Bill Callahan.
  • Unbearably hot and ridiculously cold – but usually not on the same day.
  • Home of one of the world’s largest lakes!  Unfortunately it is underground so you can’t see it or water ski on it.
  • No beaches, no mountains, but lots of corn.
  • Ridiculous amounts of white people.
  • We’re like South Dakota, but without Mount Rushmore and Sturgis.
  • The Good Wife (a co-branding opportunity with CBS)
  • The Good Knife (a co-branding opportunity with a knife manufacturer)
  • Come see what Peyton Manning keeps talking about.
  • Equality before the law* (*unless you are gay or we think you’re an illegal alien)
  • No, we don’t actually live in black and white.
  • Nebraska: Now in TechniColor!

  • The Great Life* (*when the football team is winning)
  • Nebraska:  Where Midwestern stereotypes begin!
  • Sure, we can put gravy on that.
  • Nebraska – Not just for flying over anymore!
  • So much better than Iowa.
  • Red clothing not required, but strongly recommended.
  • Corn in your car, on your head, and in everything you eat.
  • Life in Nebraska – Mikey likes it.
  • So much more than a mediocre Springsteen album.
  • Nebraska:  We can tax that.
  • Nebraska – A great place to stop on your way to wherever you’re going.
  • See your food before it is processed with a bunch of crap!
  • Our third largest city is only open seven days a year.
  • Come and let us laugh at your accent!
  • Where else ya gonna go?  Kansas?
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