Sen. Ernie Chambers addresses members of the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
Gubernatorial politics surfaced in the Legislature Thursday, while a proposal to tighten up campaign finance reporting was heard in committee.
Discussion of the governor’s race surfaced as lawmakers were discussing a proposal requiring school districts to post details of superintendents’ compensation on their websites. Sen. Jim Scheer of Norfolk offered the bill, and it got first-round approval on a vote of 28-0 last week.
Thursday, Sen. Tom Carlson of Holdrege proposed, at least for the sake of discussion, that senators postpone further consideration. Carlson said he acted after superintendents and school board members told him salaries are already discussed publically. “If we’re going to require that the superintendent’s salary be out there, I’m not necessarily opposed. But I’m uncomfortable that it’s another layer of regulation that may not be appropriate – may not be 3:48 necessary,” Carlson said.
Scheer agreed the information is already public, but said it’s on an association website that’s not well-known to the public.
Gubernatorial politics came in when Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers, who supports the bill, began asking other senators their positions on it. First he quizzed Carlson, who’s one of the candidates seeking the Republican nomination for governor. Then he asked had a back and forth with Sen. Charlie Janssen of Fremont, another GOP gubernatorial hopeful.
But when he got to Omaha Sen. Beau McCoy, also seeking the Republican nomination, Chambers ran into a stone wall.
“Sen. McCoy if you would yield, I’d like to ask you a question or two,” Chambers said.
“No I will not,” McCoy replied.
“Thank you very much. No more than I expected,” Chambers said. “Members of the Legislature, this is one of those situations where when it comes to the public’s business, certain people running for offices suddenly will not even comply with the courtesies we have in the Legislature,” he continued.
While not unprecedented, it is rare for senators to refuse to answer one another’s questions in debate. As discussion continued, McCoy tweeted “I refuse to let the people's business on the floor of the Unicameral be hijacked by the antics of Ernie Chambers.”
McCoy was later asked if he was trying to show that he could stand up to Chambers to boost his campaign. He replied he was simply following a rule that says members should confine their remarks to the question before the Legislature, and that senators may yield to questions. “His (Chambers’) question was to candidates that are running for other offices, which is not germane to the question at hand,” McCoy said.
Carlson subsequently withdrew his motion to delay the bill, and he, McCoy, and Janssen joined 41 other senators in voting to advance it. The discussion occurred as Attorney General Jon Bruning confirmed he is considering jumping into the crowded race for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, which also includes Omaha businessman Pete Ricketts, State Auditor Mike Foley of Lincoln, and Omaha lawyer Bryan Slone, in addition to the three state senators.
Thursday afternoon, the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee heard testimony on a proposal to tighten campaign finance reporting rules. It would require campaign committees to file a bank statement once a year with the Accountability and Disclosure Commission, and prohibit campaign committees from making loans.
Chambers, the bill’s sponsor, said it would enable to commission to monitor inactive accounts and discourage misuse of funds. “Because there is no requirement like that now, a person could be taking money out of the account inappropriately, using it for purposes that are not allowed under the law, and it’s not discovered as time is going along, and bad things can accumulate and happen,” Chambers said. “That’s not theoretical. That has happened,” he added.
Chambers referred to the case of former Sen. Brenda Council, who was sentenced to probation after being accused of borrowing more than $63,000 from her campaign account for gambling. No one testified in opposition to the bill. The committee took no immediate action.