LINCOLN, Nebraska -- News of the opening day of the Nebraska Legislature made it to the pages of the New York Times which announced the return of "Lawmaking Maverick" Ernie Chambers who was re-elected in November after sitting out the mandatory one term required by the adoption of term limits.
Chambers, first elected to the nation's only one-house legislature in 1971, was forced out in 2008 after voters approved term limits barring senators from more than two four-year terms. His detractors say he was the reason for term limits because of what many see as obstructive behavior. He actually fights against things in which he doesn't believe.
Ernie's supporters praise him for stopping the passage of a number of "bad" bills. Seasoned lawmakers -- admittedly a vanishing breed in term-limited states -- know that they not only have to convince enough colleagues to get 25 votes on an issue, but they also have to "get around Chambers." As a registered Independent, he regularly baffles the 30 Republicans as often as the 17 Democrats and one Independent that comprise the rest of the legislature.
Sara Howard of Omaha made history as the first daughter of a state senator to be elected to replace her mother, former Sen. Gwen Howard. Her colleague, Sen. Pete Pirsch of Omaha, was the first son of a female senator, former Sen. Carol Pirsch, to be elected (in 2006) to the Legislature. The late Sen. Jerome Warner of Waverly was the first son of a male state senator to be elected and served for 35 years. His father, Charles Warner, was the first Speaker of the Nebraska Legislature in 1937 and served for 26 years.
History was also made with the selection of eight Democrats in the officially non-partisan Legislature to head standing committees. Five committees will be chaired by Republicans and the Judiciary Committee will be chaired by Independent, Brad Ashford, of Omaha. This has raised the ire of Republican Party leaders who have increasingly pushed for an officially partisan body. The most striking of the committee head selections was that of Democrat Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha to lead the powerful nine-member Appropriations Committee.
Mello, who has butted heads with Republican Gov. Dave Heineman on a number of issues the past four years, says the predictions of conflict are unfortunate. He sees himself as a consensus builder, not unlike his predecessor Lavon Heidemann of Elk Creek, a Republican who served as committee head for six years before becoming ineligible due to term limits.
The Governor's spokeswoman Jen Rae Hein says only that Heineman is looking forward to working with all the members of the Legislature. The Governor is crafting his budget proposal to be introduced during his annual state of the state address later this month. This is the lame duck governor's last budget.
Speaking of lame ducks, term limits have left a number of them in the Legislature, seven of them in charge. Speaker of the Legislature Greg Adams of York has two years left. Others with only two years left in the Legislature include: Business and Labor Committee Chair, Steve Lathrop, of Omaha; Government Chair, Bill Avery, of Lincoln; Judiciary Chair Ashford; Natural Resources Chair, Tom Carlson, of Holdrege; Transportation Chair, Annette Dubas, of Fullerton and Urban Affairs Chair, Amanda McGill, of Lincoln.