What's the matter with Nebraska? Turfing Ernie Chambers
The most senior senator in Nebraska's unicameral legislature is being forced out by a new term limits law after nearly forty years in office:
Liked or not, Mr. Chambers, a black, divorced, agnostic former barber from Omaha with posters of Malcolm X and Frederick Douglass decorating his office, managed to rise to an ultimate level of power in a mostly rural, white conservative state on little more than sheer determination to do so. [NYT]
Mr. Chambers needs to get on the national lecture circuit to explain the secrets of his success to progressive politicians.
How does a working class, agnostic, African American become the longest-serving and most powerful legislator in a white, conservative state like Nebraska without compromising his strong liberal principles?
Mr. 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.
His tenure made him the senior member by a wide margin; the next-longest-serving senator has been in office about half as many years.
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.
In perhaps his biggest strategic victory, he opposed the Legislature’s switching from the electric chair to lethal injection as a means of execution, leaving Nebraska as the sole state with the chair as its only method of execution. In February, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled electrocution unconstitutional, effectively suspending executions in the state. [NYT]
I have to admit, I'd never heard of Chambers until I read the NYT profile. I want to know more.
Democratic politicians and strategists could learn a lot from this guy. He's like the Bernie Sanders of Nebraska.