In case you have been living under a rock, Senator Ernie Chambers is back, with a vengeance. Senator Chambers held court in the Lege for 38 years as Nebraska’s most knowledgeable, skilled, and pesky statesman. He was so pesky that the state’s crazy white people (not all white people, just the crazy ones) voted for legislative term limits just to get Ernie out. They got a lot of other knowledgeable, skilled statesmen out, too, but they didn’t care about collateral damage. They wanted the black guy gone.
The crazy white scheme worked. The black guy was gone, for four years, which is how long a senator must sit out before he or she can run again for the office.
Ernie sat back, tended his garden, observed the bills the inexperienced new state senators passed (ranging from insipid to insane), and bided his time. Then come last November, with his four-year sentence up, he was landslide-elected by his constituents to serve in the Lege again.
Four years of pent up anger and angst were bound to spill out eventually. It only took ten days before Ernie found his first opportunity for payback. During a judiciary committee hearing, Senator Chambers wrestled down the ill-prepared introducer of a poorly-written bill, tied him in knots, chewed him up, spit him out, and sent him off to the doghouse with his tail between his legs.
It was a thing of beauty.
Poor Senator Colby Coash. He’s an okay senator. Means well. Tries hard. But he made the mistake of carrying water for our not-so-bright Attorney General Jon Bruning. Bruning is so not bright he thinks the town of Bruning, Nebraska was named for him. (Not.) He is so not bright he sued the federal government 21 times as Nebraksa’s official lawyer-in-chief and lost all 21 cases. Then when he ran for United States Senator he bragged about all of his lawsuits against the big bad federal government, which is pretty ironic considering he wanted to be the big bad federal government.
He lost the election in the primary. Oh, and the multi-million dollar tab for all of those lawsuits was picked up by… you guessed it… us.
Dimbulb Bruning asked Poor Senator Coash to introduce a bill that would make disarming or attempting to disarm a peace officer a Class III felony, with a sentence of one to twenty years in the Nebraska State Pen. And Coash, being the good water-for-elephants kind of guy that he is, said yes.
On that fateful Wednesday afternoon, Senator Coash confidently strode up to the hearing table and presented opening arguments for his (actually, Dimbulb’s) crime-and-punishment bill that was going to send all of those bad guys to the already overcrowded pen while making our lawyer-in-chief and his water-boy look good. That was the plan.
Let me tell you now, the plan did not go well.
After Senator Coash finished his opening remarks, he was grilled for almost 20 minutes by Senator Chambers. Here are a few excerpts:
Senator Chambers: “Did Attorney General Jon Bruning ask you to bring this bill?”
Coash: “Yes, I’ve been working with the attorney general’s office on this bill…”
Chambers: “You make an attempt to do something the same level of seriousness as doing it in this bill, don’t you?”
Chambers: “So you may as well do it, instead of just attempting to do it.”
Coash: “Well, Senator Chambers, I think that the…”
Chambers: “No, I’d like an answer. Do you think they should be on the same level?”
Chambers: “Are these things that a lawyer (read: Dimbulb Bruning) should think of in drafting legislation or did you come up with the language?”
Coash: (mumbling) “I was assisted with…
Chambers: “What was that?”
Coash: (louder) “I was assisted with the language… I received the language and I had assistance in preparing the language.”
Chambers: “But you didn’t formulate this bill in these terms.”
Chambers: “Now if somebody actually does disarm a police officer, do you think that’s a very serious offense?”
Coash: “I do.”
Chambers: “Do you think it’s serious enough to warrant 20 years in prison?”
Coash: “Well,… Senator Chambers…”
Chambers: “I’m asking your opinion, since you brought the bill.”
Coash: “It could in some cases…”
Chambers: “When you disarm a cop, is there such a difference that it could be one year or 20 years, or is that too wide?”
Coash: “I don’t think it’s too wide.”
Chambers: “There’s nothing in the bill about aggravating circumstances.”
Chambers: “So one year, that would be just, in your opinion? Or 20 years would be just in your opinion, or didn’t you think about these things?”
Coash: “Didn’t think about that, Senator.”
Chambers: “Is there anything in this language that says a person must know that person is a peace officer?”
Coash: “There’s no language that would indicate that the defendant had to know…”
Chambers: “Plainclothes cops, they dress in a scruffy manner, they approach you without saying, ‘I’m a cop,’ he pulls a gun, I disarm him. I’ve committed a felony, haven’t I?”
Chambers: “Do you think that’s just? Or don’t you know how the law is enforced in North Omaha? Or does it make you any difference?”
Coash: no answer. (By now Coash is slumped down in his chair, looking for a place to hide under the table.)
Chambers: “Does this bill look as reasonable now to you as when the attorney general foisted it on you?”
Coash: “It looks different…”
Chambers: “How do I know one scruffy white guy from another? Or should I presume every scruffy white guy who pulls a gun on me is a cop? Or should I just let him have his way with me for fear of committing a felony? Is that just in your mind?”
Chambers: “Senator Coash, would you vote for this bill the way it is written now?”
Coash: “I’m gonna defer on that, Senator Chambers. I still believe there is a need for a separate offense…”
Chambers: “Senator Coash when I speak, is it unclear what I’m asking, in other words, don’t I speak English?”
Coash: “Yes, you do.”
Chambers: “Okay, so here’s the question: You brought this bill, and when you brought it, you thought it was reasonable, you thought it was necessary, and that is what led you to bring it. In view of our discussion, the bill that you brought, in the form that you brought it, would you vote for it today?”
Coash: “Senator Chambers, I’m not prepared to answer that question, because I’d like a little more time to…”
“Not prepared” is not a good thing when you are being cross-examined by a master statesman who has waited four long years for payback.
Stand back and be amazed. The Master of the Lege is holding court once again.