Hughes vows unbiased assess of Chambers' residency challenge

Friday, March 17, 2017

McCOOK, Neb. -- Despite having a picture on his desk of Neb. Sen. Ernie Chambers holding his grandchild, fellow state Sen. Dan Hughes says that any personal bias for or against Chambers will not figure into Hughes' consideration of a challenge to Chambers' eligibility to represent Omaha's 11th District.

On April 7, a Special Committee of the Legislature will take up the challenge to Sen. Chambers' residency filed by his District 11 opponent, John Sciara. Chambers won his district with 82 percent of the vote in November 2016, and Sciara filed a petition in November claiming that Chambers lives in Bellevue and not in the north Omaha district that he represents. Chambers calls rumors about his residency "busybody, gossipy, vengeful cud."

Hughes is on a seven-member fact-finding committee charged with making a recommendation to the full Legislature regarding Chambers' legal residency.

During a phone call to the McCook Chamber of Commerce this morning, Hughes said that he has a picture on his office desk of Sen. Chambers holding his (Hughes') grandchild. But Hughes promised that he will make no decision about Chambers' residency issue until he's heard all the evidence that will be presented by Chambers, Sciara and their attorneys during an April 7 hearing before the committee. The hearing will be open to the public, Hughes said.

Dale Dueland of McCook asked Sen. Hughes to remember that many people have more than one home, possibly a second home, a vacation home, a home closer to family, suggesting that the Legislative residency rules might need to be more clearly defined. Hughes said that Legislative rules are clear -- that a candidate for a state senate seat must live in the district at least one year prior to the election. Dueland reminded Hughes that looking at the vote last fall -- roughly 7,500 to 1,500 -- Chambers' constituents "have no problem with where he lives."

Sharon Boling, also sitting in on the phone call, reminded Sen. Hughes that a cabin on Lake McConaughy counted as residency in the Third District for another popular state senator, former Husker football Coach Tom Osborne. Hughes admitted, "There have been some stretches in the past." "Ya think?!" Boling asked.

Sen. Hughes said that despite philosophical differences with Ernie Chambers, "any personal bias for or against him will not come into play" as he listens to evidence, and the special committee forms its recommendation to the full Legislature.

"He (Chambers) can be your best friend or your worst nightmare," Hughes said. "Philosophically, we rarely agree."

Dueland reminded Hughes, "He (Chambers) grew up in a different culture than you did, and his constituents are of a different mindset than you."

Hughes said that the recommendation of the committee and the action of the full Legislature could be challenged in court.

During other issues discussed during the phone call, Hughes:

-- Said that on Day 70, legislators will take up the state budget, projected now to be $1,060,000,000 short of projected revenue. "The state's economy is growing," Hughes said, and there's more money coming in than last year, just not as much as projected.

-- In response to a question from Larry Eisenmenger about the status of NAFTA, Hughes said that state legislators aren't normally concerned with federal issues, unless they deal with online sales tax issues or medical marijuana. Hughes said that every state that has approved recreational marijuana started with medical marijuana. "Nebraska's not ready for that," Hughes said.

-- Hughes told Eisenmenger he won't get any argument out of him regarding the need for sales tax on online sales. Eisenmenger said no online sales tax makes it difficult for bricks-and-mortar businesses who have to charge sales tax. "What are we going to do with our downtowns?" Eisenmenger wondered, hoping to "create a level playing field" by requiring sales tax on online sales.

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