If term limits were designed to keep Ernie Chambers out of the Nebraska Legislature, they only worked briefly.
He's going back to Lincoln.
After sitting out a four-year term because of term limits, the former 38-year senator ran the first time he was again eligible to represent north Omaha's Legislative District 11. Chambers won in a landslide Tuesday over incumbent Sen. Brenda Council.
His victory capped a strange campaign season in north Omaha. Chambers came in first in the May primary election, but by a slim margin. Then, in September, Council was convicted of misspending campaign funds at casinos and filing false forms with the state about the expenditures.
Council, a Democrat, blamed it on a gambling addiction and vowed to repay the money. Chambers, 75, a registered nonpartisan, initially was sympathetic to Council. But after she stayed in the race, and the state Democratic Party and Democratic elected officials from north Omaha lined up behind her, Chambers became stridently critical of her.
Her previously moribund campaign woke up after her conviction, and she attacked Chambers in mailers and ads. The race became a slugfest in its final weeks.
Council, 59, also has a long record of public service, including as a member of the Omaha school board and the Omaha City Council. Much of the current political establishment in north Omaha supported her, as did a number of individual voters such as Ivy Hill, 57.
“I was happy with what she was doing (in the Legislature), and I didn't let her personal problems affect my vote in any way,” Hill said. “She said she was dealing with it, and it should have been let go at that.”
But in the end, Chambers near-legendary status in north Omaha and in Lincoln —where some have called him the second house of Nebraska's one-house Legislature because of his ability to block or alter legislation — were far too much for Council to overcome, especially with the additional obstacles she had created for herself.
“I voted for Ernie, all the way,” 74-year-old Florida Brown said after voting Tuesday afternoon. “He's been there. He's done things. People listen to him.”
“He gets results!” said Linda Clay, 68, a friend of Brown. “He has done so much for this community, and he will do more.”
Gordon Taylor, 40, cited two reasons for voting for Chambers. One dates back to when Taylor was a child and Chambers a north Omaha barber.
“He used to cut my hair when I was a little boy,” Taylor said. “He would always educate the little kids about the political process and how important it is, especially in north Omaha, to educate yourself, understand what the law is and how it can affect my community, good and bad.”
Taylor said he grew up hearing Chambers say, “Your word is everything. Your dignity is everything. It doesn't matter how much money you have or what you look like, it's how you conduct yourself.”
The other reason had to do with Council.
“Character was an issue,” Taylor said. “Not to say that she's not a good person, but if you can't take care of your household, how can you expect me to think that you're going to look out for my community and my best interest? And with the gambling, with a situation like that, who's to say you can't be bought?”
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