Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers returned to the Nebraska Legislature in January and kept his promises.
He educated. He frustrated. He sermonized. He lectured.
“Daddy Warbucks doesn't need you. Little Orphan Annie does. But you always kowtow to Daddy Warbucks.”
He defined daily unpredictability.
He lit up the lexicon, labeling factions of his fellow senators as Cliquites, Claquites, Troglodytes. Referring to pinhead states and pipsqueak public officials.
“I get sick and tired of all these hypocrites running around here talking about the federal government is too big, reduce the size of government. Then, who do they go to with their hand stuck out all of the time? If there's a drought in Nebraska, who are they going to go to? Not Ghostbusters. Not to the tea party.”
Early in the session, some senators who never had experienced the Ernie Chambers way, who were accustomed to quick debates and a fast-moving agenda, ran to Speaker Greg Adams, demanding he take control of Chambers and stop his long-winded speeches.
"Those who know Ernie know nobody controls Ernie," Adams said.
The speaker waited and watched. And it wasn't long before those senators who wanted to shut him up on one issue were yielding him time on another.
"I reminded those people, 'See how this works?'" Adams said.
He frequently sang from the session soundtrack.
“You've got to give a little, take a little, and let your poor heart break a little. … That's the story of, that’s the inglory of, the political process.”
The middle of the session bogged down, some believe, in part because of Chambers' concern about the local option sales tax that passed in 2012 and the potential that low-income constituents would have to pay more in taxes once cities voted in the plan.
That had to be resolved, Omaha Sen. Brad Ashford said. And when it was, that unclogged the session.
"He doesn't ask this body to do a whole lot. He doesn't introduce a lot of bills," Ashford said. "His main function is to work with the bills that are introduced by others."
To point out their weaknesses. To change and improve what he can. And to kill what needs to die.
“I might push people to the edge of the cliff, but I won't push them over unless it's necessary,” Chambers said.
He returned to the Capitol because he couldn't let his legislative career end by being bounced out of office by voters who didn't like him and who didn't live in his district.
They could change the state Constitution by adding term limits, but they couldn't keep him out, he said.
On his return, he found the Legislature to be more fractured.
“There was more cohesiveness before among those who were backward,” he said.
Chambers first came to the Legislature in his 30s. While he was angry at times — and still is — he never was motivated by anger, he said. It consumes too much energy.
“Anger, the way I look at it now, it's a feeling of such indignation and outrage about something that doesn't have to be this way, that you're going to speak against it, then you're going to find a way to work against it, if you can.”
If he could go back and advise that young black man living in north Omaha, he said, he wouldn't try to alter his course in the least. He would let his life unfold just the way it has.
On second thought, there is one thing he would tell him.
“When you go to a store that sells those short-sleeved sweatshirts, buy 100 of them. Because they're not going to always make them,” he said.
“That's the regret.”