Ernest W. Chambers
|Member of the Nebraska Legislature
from the 11th district
|Preceded by||Brenda Council|
|Preceded by||George W Althouse|
|Succeeded by||Brenda Council|
July 10, 1937 |
Omaha, Nebraska US
|Residence||Omaha, Nebraska US|
|Alma mater||Creighton University
Creighton University School of Law
Ernest "Ernie" William Chambers (born July 10, 1937) is a Nebraska State Senator who represents North Omaha's 11th District in the Nebraska State Legislature. He is the longest-serving state senator in the history of Nebraska, and was Nebraska's first African-American senator. Chambers is also the only African-American to ever run for governor and the US Senate in Nebraska's history.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Career
- 2.1 Omaha Post Office
- 2.2 Summer 1966 riots
- 2.3 Nebraska Legislature
- 3 Other
- 4 Controversy
- 5 Legacy
- 6 Personal life
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
Chambers was born in the Near North Side neighborhood of Omaha, Nebraska, to father Malcolm Chambers, a local minister, and mother Lillian Chambers. Chambers' father's family originally comes from Mississippi, while his mother's family originally comes from Louisiana. He has six siblings who were all born in Omaha.
In 1955, Chambers graduated from Omaha Tech High School. In 1959, he graduated from Creighton University with a B.A. in history, with minors in Spanish and philosophy. He attended Creighton University School of Law in the early 1960s "before being barred for failure to attend classes." In 1979, Chambers completed a law degree from Creighton University School of Law, but supposedly "never practiced law because he refused to join the Nebraska State Bar Association." Chambers is not a member of the bar and does not practice law.
Omaha Post Office
In 1963, when Chambers was 25 years old, he worked for the Omaha Post Office. Chambers said he was fired for insubordination because he spoke out against 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.”
Summer 1966 riots
During a series of heat waves in the Summer of 1966, there were two disturbances in Omaha: In July, three straight nights of confrontations between black teenagers and the police escalated to the point where the Nebraska National Guardsmen were called in to restore order. And in early August, another series of riots occurred over three nights. Chambers worked as a spokesperson for the community during both conflicts, meeting with Mayor A.V. Sorenson, helping to end the riots. During this period, Chambers emerged as a prominent leader in the North Omaha community where he successfully negotiated concessions from the city's leaders on behalf of the African-American youths of North Omaha. Chambers headed a committee of the Near North Side Police-Community Relations Council "which presented to city officials a long list of complaints against Omaha police practices." Previously the African-American community was led by more established organizations like Omaha Urban League and the local chapter of the NAACP, not an emerging young anti-establishment leader like Chambers.
Chambers was also working as a barber at the time, and appeared in the Oscar-nominated 1966 documentary film A Time for Burning, where he talked about race relations in Omaha.
Chambers made a bid to get elected to the Omaha School Board, but he was unable to get an endorsement from the Board and failed also as a write-in candidate for the City Council.
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, who died in office, and appointee George W. Althouse. Althouse flubbed a speech and was considered a setback to the Black Movement. Senator Chambers’s grass roots brand of politics from the streets helped him to be elected to the conservative unicameral legislature in 1970. During the election, a policeman was killed by a bomb in a deserted house. Two local Black Panther members (what is known as the Rice/Poindexter case) were charged in the killing. Chambers was active in protesting what he considered a frame-up by COINTELPRO.
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. 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".
Sen. Chambers also ran for the United States Senate in 1988 as a New Alliance Party candidate. He petitioned to be included on the 1974 ballot for Governor of the state of Nebraska and also ran for Governor in 1994, receiving 0.44% of the vote.
Senator Chambers' politics are liberal, as well and have been described as militant. 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.
|This section may be slanted towards recent events. (January 2009)|
Marsh v. Chambers
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
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. 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.
1989 Franklin scandal
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." 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.
2006 Omaha Public Schools controversy
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".
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
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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".
Chambers said his action was in response to another lawsuit filed in the state court that he considers to be frivolous and inappropriate. 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.
Senator Chambers (a member of the Judiciary Committee) 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." 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."
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.'"
- 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. 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. Chambers also opposed proposed funding of the state's ethanol plant incentive programs, declaring them "a boondoggle".
- 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.
- In March 2015, Chambers introduced LB473 in opposition of the Keystone XL pipeline.
- In the 1990s, the apartment complex originally called Strehlow Terrace was renamed the Ernie Chambers Court
- 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
- Chambers hosted a weekly call-in Public-access television cable TV show on Omaha's Community Telecast, Inc. (CTI22), broadcast on Cox Channel 22
- In 2014, Chambers said he was going to write a blog
"My ISIS is the police"
On March 20, 2015, during a Judiciary Committee Hearing on Allowing Guns in Bars (LB 635), Chambers said as part of the conversation that "My ISIS is the police." Chambers said his comments "were in the context of criticizing the lack of prosecution of Omaha Police Officer Alvin Lugod in connection with the Feb. 23 fatal shooting of a robbery suspect, Danny Elrod." Although fellow senators did not react to his comments during the hearing, there was backlash. Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer responded to Chambers: "The comments that Senator Ernie Chambers made today at the Nebraska Unicameral are not only reprehensible but are completely without merit.” Mayor Jean Stothert also criticized Chambers, saying in a press release that he should be looking for ways to improve public safety instead of “comparing police officers to terrorists.”
The controversial section is taken from a Lincoln Journal Star transcript:
- "Nobody from ISIS ever terrorized us as a people, as the police do daily. And they get away with it and they've been given the license now. And people don't like me to say this. Then you rein in your cops. And you know what they say, the racism of the cops is merely reflective of the racism in this society and they accept the existence of racism to excuse the cop. But then when I say there is racism in the society, they say, you're playing the race card, you're talking about it makes it happen. But when they want to justify the cop, they say, he's merely reflective of the community where there is white racism. And that's what I look...you don't have to deal with that. You're privileged. You're free of that. You don't have to think about it every day. If I was going to carry a weapon, it wouldn't be against you, it wouldn't be against these people who come here that I might have a dispute with. Mine would be for the police. And if I carried a gun, I'd want to shoot him first and then ask questions later, like they say the cop ought to do."
Criticism of Chambers' remarks grew: Gov. Pete Ricketts called Chambers' comments "irresponsible" and asked for an apology. Others critical of Chambers' remarks: Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert, Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer and Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson, and the hashtag #supportblue was organized in response to Chambers' comments. "One freshman senator, David Schnoor of Scribner, went a step further, asking the 77-year-old senator to resign." During "an extraordinary two-hour discussion" with Chambers about his remarks last week, Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha said "he now regrets that he didn't 'nudge Senator Chambers and express my disappointment' when he made the remarks during last week's hearing." There were a number of senators who while they "took exception to Chambers' comments last week defended his right to express his views even if they disagreed with him." Sen. Dave Bloomfield of Hoskins remarked in Chambers' defense: "It's a wonderful opportunity to pile onto Sen. Chambers." Chambers said he will continue to criticize the police "strongly and vociferously." "And he will not apologize."
Chambers is a long-term civil rights activist and is the most prominent and outspoken African-American leader in the state. He has been characterized as "the Maverick of Omaha," the "angriest black man in Nebraska," and is self-described as a "Defender of the Downtrodden."
Chambers is "as well known for his style of politics as he is for its content." "Language enthralls him and his speeches on the Senate floor are known for two things: their colorful wording and their length." He frequently employs legislative rules and filibusters to block proposals, and his legislative opposition has caused friction with some of his colleagues in the Legislature.
Asked to defend how he is perceived, Chambers says: "I tell people when they ask me to characterize myself is that I'm a black man first. Black man and women always must excel. There is more required of us than is required from anybody else and I cannot say who will come after me but it would be good if more people came into these jobs with my attitude, that we determine what is right, because we're not here to win friends, we're here to get results. And even though I often am abrasive, some of my edges are jagged, my approach is confrontational, I will work with others when they're doing something I believe in and despite the fact that a lot of my colleagues want to dislike me, I don't think they can dislike me quite as much as they would like to."
Chambers "is regarded as a master of process, procedure and the filibuster, and his power derived from being as much a bill-killer as law-maker. Some thought him a bully. He would filibuster anything he did not like unless concessions were made to appease him, or he might nitpick at the details of a bill until it fell apart under the weight of his scrutiny." He took special interest in "American Indians, poor urban blacks, small farmers and women’s rights. He was unbending in his opposition to the death penalty, nibbling away at it over the years and managing to secure bans for minors and those with mental difficulties."
Term limit law
In 2000, a term-limit amendment was passed that essentially forced Chambers—as well as half of Nebraska’s state senators—out of office in 2008. Chambers said: "Those who sponsored the effort made it clear that they were trying to get me out of office because I would be returned as long as people in my district could vote for me.... But they knew that the only way they could get rid of me was through term limits." The amendment required legislators sit out one term, after which time they could run for election. 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."
Other than a stint in the US Army, Chambers has lived in Nebraska all his life. and is known for his casual attire of blue jeans and T-shirts, even when in session at the Nebraska Legislature. He would often bring his dog with him to work. Chambers is a sketch artist, a therapeutic activity he adopted during long legislative sessions.
Chambers says he is an atheist. Despite the fact he is not religious, Chambers became a credentialed minister in January 2009 through the non-denominational Universal Ministries in order to officiate at weddings.
Chambers is divorced.
- Nebraska Legislature
- African Americans in Omaha, Nebraska
- African-American Civil Rights Movement in Omaha, Nebraska
- List of riots and civil unrest in Omaha, Nebraska
- History of North Omaha, Nebraska
- Timeline of Racial Tension in Omaha, Nebraska
- Timeline of North Omaha, Nebraska history
- Near North Side, Omaha
- History of Omaha, Nebraska
- A Time for Burning
- Rice/Poindexter case
- Lawsuits against God - Ernie Chambers
- "Ernest Chambers - United States Public Records". FamilySearch. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
- Beckel, Michael (5 January 2006). "The Maverick of Omaha: Sen. Ernie Chambers talks race and politics.". Mother Jones. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
- Gordon, Ed (24 January 2006). "Sen. Ernie Chambers, a Solo Act in Nebraska" (AUDIO INTERVIEW - INCLUDES TRANSCRIPT). News & Notes. NPR. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
- Steed, Camille; Aylward, Pat; Valentine, Julie (1997). "Ernie Chambers: Still Militant After All These Years" (VIDEO INTERVIEW, 59 MIN.). Lincoln: Nebraska ETV Network. OCLC 46454011.
- "Ernest Chambers - United States Census, 1940". FamilySearch. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
- "Malcolm Chambers (1907 - 1995)". Find A Grave. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
- "Lillian D Chambers (1910 - 1998)". Find A Grave. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
- "The Life and Times of Ernie Chambers". Omaha World-Herald. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
- Biga, Leo Adam (2006). "Goodwin’s Spencer Street Barber Shop: We Cut Heads and Broaden Minds, Too". The Reader (Omaha). Retrieved 26 March 2015.
- Taylor, Jr., Dr. Quintard. "Manual - Chapter 9 The Civil Rights Movement in the West". History 313: The History of African Americans in the West. University of Washington. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
Online resource, see Larsen in Further reading, pp. 272-274.
- "For the Record, 4/25". Lincoln Journal Star. Associated Press. 24 April 2005. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
- Burbach, Christopher (7 November 2012). "Chambers' return to Lincoln follows strange campaign season". Omaha World-Herald. Retrieved 7 November 2012.
- Dopirak, Dustin (17 February 2004). "Debate rages over paying college athletes". The Daily Collegian (Penn State). Retrieved 26 March 2015.
- Robbins, William (18 December 1988). "A Lurid, Mysterious Scandal Begins Taking Shape in Omaha". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
- Robbins, Williams (29 July 1990). "Omaha Grand Jury Sees Hoax in Lurid Tales". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
- Keyes, Allison (24 April 2006). "NAACP Threatens Suit Over Omaha Redistricting". News & Notes (NPR). Retrieved 26 March 2015.
- Montgomery, Rick (27 April 2006). "Omaha schools: Divide and conquer?". Seattle Times (Knight Ridder Newspapers). Retrieved 26 March 2015.
- Dillon, Sam (15 April 2006). "Law to Segregate Omaha Schools Divides Nebraska". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 May 2006.
- Mabin, Clarence (17 June 2007). "Banned words debated in sex assault case". Lincoln Journal Star. Retrieved 16 October 2008.
- "Sen. Ernie Chambers: District 11 - Biography". Nebraska Legislature. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
Official Nebraska Legislature lists 'Occupation: Defender of the Downtrodden.'
- Jenkins, Nate (3 March 2005). "Chambers takes aim at hunting measure". Lincoln Journal Star. Retrieved 24 May 2006.
- Chambers, Ernie; Osborne, Tom (1 July 2004). "Damage from casinos would be long lasting" (PDF). Gambling With The Good Life. Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 March 2006. Retrieved 24 May 2006.
- Walton, Don (6 April 2004). "Ethanol fund gap divides senators". Lincoln Journal Star. Retrieved May 24, 2006.
- Hicks, Nancy (11 April 2006). "Bill that would aid Lincoln arena is dead". Lincoln Journal Star. Retrieved 24 May 2006.
- "Pipeline foes appeal to Nebraska lawmakers in testy hearing". The Washington Post (Associated Press). 11 March 2015. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
- "Chambers Court". WOWT NBC Omaha. 26 October 2005. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
- "General Weekly Program Schedule". Community Telecast. Archived from the original on 1 June 2009. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
- Hammel, Paul (28 November 2014). "Sen. Ernie Chambers quits Omaha Star column, plans blog". Omaha World-Herald. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
- "Judiciary Committee Hearing on Allowing Guns in Bars (LB 635), March 20, 2015" (VIDEO OF NEBRASKA LEGISLATIVE HEARING). Nebraskans Against Gun Violence. YouTube. 20 March 2015. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
Time of comment is at 51m25s
- Young, Joanne (26 March 2015). "Transcript of Ernie Chambers comments on LB635" (TRANSCRIPT OF LEGISLATIVE HEARING). Lincoln Journal Star. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
- Hammel, Paul (25 March 2015). "Ernie Chambers faces criticism for comparing police to ISIS". Omaha World-Herald. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
- Young, Joanne (26 March 2015). "Senator calls out Chambers for comments on police". Lincoln Journal Star. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
- Young, Joanne (26 March 2015). "Senator calls out Sen. Ernie Chambers for comments on police". Lincoln Journal Star. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
- Hammel, Paul; Stoddard, Martha (26 March 2015). "List of critics grows after Ernie Chambers' 'my ISIS is the police' comments". Omaha World-Herald. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
- Walton, Don (26 March 2015). "Chambers' remarks stir senatorial backlash". Lincoln Journal Star. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
- Bauer, Scott (25 March 2006). "Impact of term limits on state's unicameral government feared". Lincoln Journal Star. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
- Saulny, Susan (29 April 2008). "Statehouse Journal: An Irascible Firebrand, Quieted by Term Limits". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
- Norman, Andrew; Adams, Sara (2013). "4: Making a Difference (Ernie Chambers and Christopher Rodgers)". Then and Now: A look at people in your neighborhood (IBOOK). Omaha Public Schools. pp. 14–16. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
An iBook on a topic of Omaha and Nebraska history as it relates to African American History (3rd grade book series)
- Young, Joanne (10 July 2010). "Ernie Chambers shows a softer, romantic side". Lincoln Journal Star. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
- Schulte, Grant (22 March 2015). "Longtime Nebraska senator flexes a second skill: sketching". ABC News. Associated Press. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
- Ashtari, Shadee (24 January 2014). "Atheist Senator Ernie Chambers Tells Religious Organizations: 'Pay Your Taxes'". Huffington Post. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
- Mehta, Hemant (23 January 2014). "Nebraska’s Atheist State Senator Introduces Bill That Would Force Churches to Pay Property Taxes". Friendly Atheist (Patheos). Retrieved 26 March 2015.
- Larsen, Lawrence Harold, Barbara J. Cottrell, and Harl A. Dalstrom. The Gate City: A History of Omaha. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1982. "Black Omaha: From Non-Violence to Black Power." pp. 272–274. ISBN 978-0-803-27967-4 OCLC 36556292
- See also: Excerpt at Dr. Quintard Taylor, Jr. "History 313: The History of African Americans in the West."
- Steed, Camille, Pat Aylward, and Julie Valentine. Ernie Chambers: Still Militant After All These Years. Lincoln: Nebraska ETV Network, 1997. Video, 59 min. OCLC 46454011
- Ali Johnson, Tekla Agbala. Free Radical Ernest Chambers, Black Power, and the Politics of Race. Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press, 2012. ISBN 978-0-896-72729-8 OCLC 795173877