Committee: Dismiss challenge to Sen. Ernie Chambers' election

Sen. Ernie Chambers talks to reporters Friday outside a room named for him when he was term-limited out of the Legislature eight years ago (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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April 7, 2017 - 4:45pm

A Nebraska legislative committee has recommended dismissal of a challenge to the election of Omaha Senator Ernie Chambers based on an allegation that he does not live in the district he represents.

The challenge was brought by John Sciara of Omaha, whom Chambers defeated in last year’s election by 82-18 percent. Under direct questioning from Sciara, Chambers said he lived at 1825 Binney Street, and has for about 30 years.

Sciara said a 2012 Omaha World-Herald article raised the issue of Chambers’ residence. And under questioning, Sen. John Lowe of Kearney said he had jokingly asked Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue about the “other” senator from Bellevue, and Blood had said she saw Chambers driving around all the time.

Blood said she lives a few houses away from Chambers legislative aide Cynthia Grandberry, and that Chambers picks Grandberry up in the morning and drops her off at night. But Blood said Chambers doesn’t live there. “If anybody wants to know going on in our neighborhood, why don’t they ask somebody that’s lived there for several decades?” Blood asked. “We know what’s going on in our neighborhood and Sen. Chambers does not live there.”

Sciara said he did not have to prove where Chambers lived, but only that he does not live in what he claimed as his residence. He presented water bills that he said showed Chambers did not use much water in his house. Sen. Dan Hughes of Venango, a member of the committee, pointed out that for some months, water use was listed at zero. “You live there but you use no water during that month?” Hughes asked.

“Well see, I don’t spend much time there because I come down here (Lincoln) almost every day when we’re in session or out of session. Now I don’t know if flushings of the toilet and running bath water would register. But I don’t wash clothes, I don’t have other people living there, running the toilet. There is very little water or gas actually used,” Chambers replied.

Sciara said he had done his own observation of Chambers’ house. “I have observed Sen. Chambers at Binney Street on a few occasions – very few occasions. But again I would go to observe if there was any vehicle there. I would go at like two o’clock in the morning, even. So my observations of Binney Street gave me the indication that there was no one home there,” Sciara said.

Chambers said he wouldn’t answer personal questions. “I recognize this as a very serious proceeding. It could have the potential of overturning the expressed will of the voters, so it’s very serious. But it’s not an invitation to invade privacy or to scandal-monger or any of those things,” he declared.

Chambers’ lawyer Mark McGuire presented evidence including property tax bills, bills for a new roof and landscaping and  voting records, all of which he said proved Chambers lives in his house. The committee had previously indicated the burden was on Sciara to prove he did not.

After deliberating for about an hour after the hearing closed, committee members voted 7-0 to recommend rejecting Sciara’s challenge. The final decision will now be up to the full Legislature.



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