Ernie Chambers

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Ernest W. Chambers
Member of the Nebraska Legislature
from the 11th district
Assumed office
Preceded by Brenda Council
In office
Preceded by George W Althouse
Succeeded by Brenda Council
Personal details
Born (1937-07-10) July 10, 1937 (age 77)
Omaha, Nebraska
Political party Independent
Residence Omaha
Alma mater Creighton University School of Law
Occupation Barber
Religion None[1]

Ernest (Ernie) W. Chambers (born July 10, 1937) is a Nebraska State Senator who represents North Omaha's 11th District in the Nebraska State Legislature. He is also a civil rights activist and is considered by most citizens of Nebraska as the most prominent and outspoken African-American leader in the state[original research?]. As a State Senator, Chambers was considered[by whom?] one of the Legislature's most passionate, controversial and colorful members and was characterized by some outlets of the national media as "the Maverick of Omaha," the "angriest black man in Nebraska," and "defender of the downtrodden".[2] Due to a term limits law passed in 2000, his term in the Nebraska Legislature ended in January 2009.[3] It is generally agreed[by whom?] that even after 38 years he would have easily won re-election. As he put it, "They had to change the [state] constitution to get rid of me." He is the longest-serving state senator in the history of Nebraska.

On November 6, 2012, Chambers was once again elected to represent north Omaha's 11th district in the Nebraska Unicameral, defeating Brenda Council by a "landslide".[4]


Chambers is a lifetime Omaha resident. He is a graduate of Omaha Tech High School and Creighton University School of Law, although he is not a member of the bar and does not practice law.

The protest that catapulted Chambers, as a young 25-year-old, into the political limelight occurred in 1963 while he worked for the Omaha Post Office. Chambers was fired for insubordination because he did not appreciate the management at the Post Office referring to the black staff as “boys.” He picketed the Postmaster General’s speech in Omaha with a sign that read, “I spoke against discrimination in the Omaha Post Office and was fired.”[5]

Chambers was a young barber when he first appeared in the Oscar-nominated 1966 documentary film A Time for Burning. During this period, he emerged as a prominent leader in the North Omaha community as illustrated in his instrumental role during the 1966 riots, when he successfully negotiated concessions from the city's leaders on behalf of the African-American youths of North Omaha.[6]

Realizing that the North Omaha's 11th District needed a voice to represent it, the community recommended that Chambers run to replace deceased Senator Edward Danner, and appointee George W. Althouse. Senator Chambers’s grass roots brand of politics from the streets helped him to be elected to the conservative unicameral legislature in 1970.[5]

Political career[edit]

First elected to represent North Omaha's 11th District in the Nebraska State Legislature in 1970, Chambers was successfully re-elected in every ensuing election through 2004. On April 25, 2005, Chambers became Nebraska's longest-serving state senator, having served for more than 35 years.[7] He was not allowed to seek re-election in 2008 because of a constitutional amendment passed by Nebraska voters in 2000 which limits Nebraska state legislators to two consecutive four-year terms. The constitutional amendment, however, permits senators to seek re-election to their office after sitting out for four years. Chambers ran against incumbent Brenda Council in 2012, winning election by a "landslide".[4]

Sen. Chambers also ran for the United States Senate in 1988 as a New Alliance Party candidate.[8] He petitioned to be included on the 1974 ballot for Governor of the state of Nebraska[9] and also ran for Governor in 1994, receiving 0.44% of the vote.

Chambers hosts a weekly call-in Public-access television cable TV show on Omaha's Community Telecast, Inc. (CTI22), broadcast on Cox Channel 22.[10]

Legislative service[edit]

Senator Chambers' politics are liberal. He is a firm opponent of the death penalty, and introduced a bill to repeal Nebraska's capital punishment law at the start of each legislative session. The bill was once passed by the Legislature but could not overcome Governor Dave Heineman's veto; the issue remained as a primary focus of his while in office.[citation needed]

Frequently employing legislative rules and filibusters to block proposals, his legislative opposition has caused friction with some of his colleagues in the Legislature. It has, in fact, been suggested by opponents of legislative term limits that the 2000 amendment limiting senators to two four-year terms had been conceived largely to force him from his position.[11] But despite such friction, he is well respected by many past and present Nebraska politicians for his intimate knowledge of legislative rules, his persuasive skills as an orator and for wearing his sweatsuits or black or blue T-shirts and denim jeans on the floor of the Senate rather than a suit.[citation needed]

Marsh v. Chambers[edit]

Senator Chambers initiated a lawsuit in 1980 attempting to end the Legislature's practice of beginning its session with a prayer offered by a state-supported chaplain, arguing that such practice was forbidden by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The district court held that the prayer did not violate the Constitution, but that state support for the chaplain did. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals held that both practices violated the Constitution. However, in Marsh v. Chambers (1983), the Supreme Court held by a 6–3 vote that both practices were constitutional because of the "unique history" of the United States.

1986 NCAA student athletes as state employees[edit]

Senator Chambers has promoted recognizing NCAA student athletes as state employees since the 1980s, arguing that the athletes are generating revenue for their universities without any legal benefits for doing so, which encourages illegal payments and gifts. A bill on this issue too was once passed by the Legislature and again it was unable to overcome the governor's veto.[12] After it was revealed that requiring student athletes to be recognized as state employees would jeopardize any university's NCAA standing, the language of the bill was changed such that a university could allow for players to be paid a stipend, a change that allowed for the bill's passage and signature of governor approval in 2003.[13]

1989 Franklin scandal[edit]

According to an article that appeared in the December 18, 1988, edition of The New York Times, unidentified people present at a closed meeting reported that Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers claimed he heard credible reports of "boys and girls, some of them from foster homes, who had been transported around the country by airplane to provide sexual favors, for which they were rewarded."[14] Investigating what became known as the Franklin child prostitution ring allegations, a Nebraska grand jury was convened to investigate the allegations and possibly return indictments. Eventually, the grand jury ruled the entire matter was "a carefully crafted hoax," although they failed to identify the perpetrators of said hoax.[15]

2006 Omaha Public Schools controversy[edit]

In April 2006, Senator Chambers introduced LB 1024, an amendment to a bill that would divide the Omaha Public Schools district into three different districts. The bill and its amendment were created in response to an effort by the Omaha schools district to "absorb a string of largely white schools that were within the Omaha city limits but were controlled by suburban or independent districts". Omaha Schools claimed that the usurpation was necessary to avoid financial and racial inequity, but supporters of LB 1024 contested the district's expansion, favoring more localized control, especially along racial and ethnic lines. The bill has received national attention and some critics have referred to it as "state-sponsored segregation".[16]

A bill passed in 2007 repealed LB 1024, restoring pre-2006 Omaha-area school district boundaries, after which a "learning community" was created to equalize student achievement in Douglas and Sarpy counties.

2007 Lawsuit against God[edit]

On September 14, 2007, Chambers filed a lawsuit against God, seeking a permanent injunction ordering God to "cease certain harmful activities and the making of terroristic threats...of grave harm to innumerable persons, including constituents of Plaintiff who Plaintiff has the duty to represent".[17]

Chambers said his action was in response to another lawsuit filed in the state court that he considers to be frivolous and inappropriate.[18] In that case a woman was taking Lancaster County Judge Jeffre Cheuvront to federal court for ruling that the words "rape", "sexual assault kit", "victim", and "assailant" could not be used in her testimony.[19]

Senator Chambers (a member of the Judiciary Committee[20]) stated that the case "is inappropriate because the Nebraska Supreme Court has already considered the case and federal courts follow the decisions of state supreme courts on state matters."[18][21] He went on to announce his lawsuit against God and said "This lawsuit [against Judge Cheuvront] having been filed and being of such questionable merit creates a circumstance where my lawsuit is appropriately filed. People might call it frivolous but if they read it they’ll see there are very serious issues I have raised."[18][21]

Chambers' lawsuit drew even more media attention than the lawsuit that had inspired him to take the action to prove his point. Many media outlets covering the story made no mention that Chambers' case was intended to show that the courts were currently required to hear cases, regardless of how frivolous they were. The confusion was furthered by Chambers himself who, apparently tongue-in-cheek, told reporters that his case was not to protest frivolous lawsuits, but to insure them saying his action was "in response to bills brought forth by other state senators to try and stop lawsuits from being filed. 'The Constitution requires that the courthouse doors be open, so you cannot prohibit the filing of suits, Anyone can sue anyone they choose, even God.'"[22]

Assorted legislation[edit]

Chambers has long advocated on behalf of David Rice and Ed Poindexter, who were convicted of the murder of an Omaha police officer; Amnesty International considers the men political prisoners.

Often clashing with fellow senators, Senator Chambers has taken on several issues of concern to rural Nebraskans during his tenure, such as a bill requiring landowners to manage the population of black-tailed prairie dogs on their property and a proposed constitutional amendment to preserve the right to fish, trap and hunt in the state. Chambers described the latter measure as one of the most "asinine, simple-minded pieces of trash" ever to be considered by the Legislature.[23] In 2004 Chambers co-authored an opinion piece with U.S. Rep. Tom Osborne opposing a set of initiatives that would allow casino gambling and slot machines in Nebraska.[24] Chambers also opposed proposed funding of the state's ethanol plant incentive programs, declaring them "a boondoggle".[25]

In the spring of 2006, Chambers withdrew support from two tax incentive bills which would have provided funding for Omaha and Lincoln civic building projects. Chambers claimed that he withdrew support because Omaha business leaders had insulted the Legislature and the North Omaha community which he represents by criticizing the passage of LB 1024. He was also insulted by the Omaha City Council's refusal to name a North Omaha park after him despite another request by that neighborhood to do so.[26]

Post-legislative life[edit]

On November 4, 2008, Chambers was elected to be a member of the new Douglas and Sarpy County, NE, Learning Community board. Chambers was sworn in early 2009.

He has also been featured as a guest on The Political Cesspool.[27]


Aside from the long-ranging effects of his legislative service, Chambers has also been honored in Omaha. The apartment complex originally called Strehlow Terrace was renamed the Ernie Chambers Court in the 1990s.[28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Associated Press (September 21, 2007) 'God' Gets an Attorney in Lawsuit Retrieved October 17, 2008
  2. ^ Beckel, M. (2006), "The Maverick of Omaha. Interview: Sen. Ernie Chambers talks race and politics", Mother Jones. January 5, 2006.
  3. ^ Chambers' return to Lincoln follows strange campaign season -
  4. ^ a b Burbach, Christopher (7 November 2012). "Chambers' return to Lincoln follows strange campaign season". Omaha World-Herald. Retrieved 7 November 2012. 
  5. ^ a b Video Tape: Ernie Chambers: Still Militant After All These Years. Produced by: The Nebraska Educational Television Network, University Media Collection. Written, produced, and directed by Camille Steed. Program Copyright: KUON-TV, 1992.
  6. ^ (n.d.)History 313: Manual – Chapter 9: Black Omaha: From Non-Violence to Black Power. University of Washington.
  7. ^ Associated Press (April 25, 2005). "For the Record". Retrieved May 24, 2006. 
  8. ^ Peake, L. (1988) A Queer Alliance Gay Community News/Radical America. Retrieved May 2, 2007.
  9. ^ (nd) RG002 Nebraska Secretary of State (& film). State of Nebraska. See "B.47 1960–1974 Petitions RMA1054".
  10. ^ Omaha Cox Channel 22 Lineup.
  11. ^ Associated Press (March 26, 2006). "Impact of term limits on state's unicameral government feared". Retrieved May 24, 2006. 
  12. ^ (1991) Sports People; Financial-Aid Bill, New York Times. February 24, 1991. Retrieved May 2, 2007.
  13. ^ (2004) "Debate rages over paying college athletes", The Daily Collegian Online February 17, 2004. Retrieved September 21, 2007.
  14. ^ William Robbins. "A Lurid, Mysterious Scandal Begins Taking Shape in Omaha", The New York Times, December 18, 1988.
  15. ^ William Robbins. Omaha Grand Gury Sees Hoax in Lurid Tales. The New York Times. July 29, 1990.
  16. ^ The New York Times (April 15, 2006). "Law to Segregate Omaha Schools Divides Nebraska". Retrieved May 24, 2006. 
  17. ^ MSNBC (September 17, 2007). "State Senator Ernie Chambers Sues God". Retrieved September 17, 2007. [dead link]
  18. ^ a b c Nate Jenkins (September 17, 2007). "Chambers sues God in protest of another lawsuit". Associated Press. Retrieved September 18, 2007. 
  19. ^ Clarence Mabin (June 17, 2007). "Banned words debated in sex assault case". Lincoln Journal Star. Retrieved October 16, 2008. 
  20. ^ "Sen. Ernie Chambers (District 11, Omaha". Retrieved October 16, 2008. 
  21. ^ a b "Nebraska state senator sues God". Associated Press. September 17, 2007. Retrieved October 16, 2008. 
  22. ^ "Ernie Chambers Files Suit Against God". KPTM. January 17, 2008. Retrieved October 16, 2008. 
  23. ^ Lincoln Journal Star (March 3, 2005). "Chambers takes aim at hunting measure". Retrieved May 24, 2006. 
  24. ^ Ernie Chambers and Tom Osborne (July 1, 2004). "Damage from casinos would be long lasting (PDF)". Archived from the original on March 17, 2006. Retrieved May 24, 2006. 
  25. ^ Lincoln Journal Star (April 6, 2004). "Ethanol fund gap divides senators". Retrieved May 24, 2006. 
  26. ^ Lincoln Journal Star (April 12, 2006). "Bill that would aid Lincoln arena is dead". Retrieved May 24, 2006. 
  27. ^ The Political Cesspool Radio Program
  28. ^ (nd) Chambers Court: Building to receive millions in renovations. Retrieved June 4, 2007.