The speaker of the Nebraska Legislature adjourned the session early July 24 amid internal conflict and name-calling among senators.
The decision came during a particularly divisive session. During debate on an abortion bill on July 21, Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte told Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln to “shut up.”
In a separate controversy, Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha made comments on July 20 implying that Sen. Julie Slama of Peru had performed sexual favors for her success. He was angered at a Slama campaign ad against her opponent Janet Palmtag that Chambers and other politicians have called racist.
With only 13 days left in the session, accusations erupted on the floor again on July 24, leading Speaker Sen. Jim Scheer of Norfolk to call for adjournment early around 11 a.m. Scheer told his colleagues to take the weekend to think about their actions and look in the mirror.
“You don’t have to like each other, but you have to respect each other on this floor,” he said. “I’m no longer gonna let this be a place to disintegrate individual senators.”
During the exchange July 21 between Pansing Brooks and Groene, the debate on anti-abortion legislation LB814 became heated.
“Your sex life is that important to you? That defines who you are? Get a life,” he said. “Shut up. Anyways, it’s my mic. You call yourself a Christian, amen.”
Pansing Brooks alleges that Groene raised his middle finger when he sat down. She said she was willing to move on, but Groene chose to revisit the issue again on July 24.
“I was horrified,” she said during debate on July 24. “Has anyone ever heard of this happening on the body of this floor ever in the history of a Nebraska Legislature?”
Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln tweeted about the incident on July 21, supporting Pansing Brooks’ claims that Groene “flipped her off.” He said he asked Pansing Brooks’ permission to speak publicly on the incident, but will not pursue it any further.
Well there is a first time for everything even after six years in the Legislature – Senator Groene just told @Patty4Nebraska to “shut up” on the floor and then flipped her off – the chairman of our Education Committee.
— Senator Adam Morfeld (@Adam_Morfeld) July 22, 2020
I was beyond shocked…so much for legislative collegiality. https://t.co/2GLWThVHjP
— Senator Patty Pansing Brooks (@Patty4Nebraska) July 22, 2020
“I think people need to know because otherwise, Sen. Groene can get away with flipping people off anytime on the floor of the Legislature, and there not be consequences,” he said. “There’s a difference between passionate debate and getting upset and making obscene gestures to people.”
Groene said he was not pointing his middle finger, but signaling for silence and that he was provoked by Pansing Brooks. Groene also called Morfeld’s tweet a “vicious rumor,” which led to him receiving “vicious emails” and attacks from the media.
“I had to stand up because I am being defamed, attacked. I was totally distracted by the heckling going on,” he said. “I don’t agree with my president tweeting. I don’t agree with any politician tweeting. We should be more mature than that.”
Slama said if the Legislature was discussing verbal abuse and derogatory comments, then the body needed to revisit Chamber’s remarks towards her on July 20.
“It seems to me to be a little bit hypocritical to clutch our pearls about Sen. Groene’s comments from Tuesday night without any reference to what happened on Monday with Sen. Chambers referencing his evident rape fantasy with me and his continued sexual harassment of me on the floor of this Legislature,” she said. “In my mind, that’s far more problematic than what’s being discussed here.”
Slama and top Nebraska Republican officials are calling for the censure of Chambers, including Gov. Pete Ricketts who in a tweet condemned Chambers’ “hateful rhetoric.”
For far too long, Senator Chambers’ hateful rhetoric has gone unchecked. I condemn Ernie’s sexist slurs against women and his disgraceful remarks towards law enforcement.
Full statement: https://t.co/YT5Je27L9k
— Gov. Pete Ricketts (@GovRicketts) July 22, 2020
— Senator Julie Slama (@SenatorSlama) July 21, 2020
“Suppose I had raped white women?” Chambers said on July 20. “Suppose I enslaved Sen. Slama and used her the way that I wanted to.”
Chambers, who has previously received backlash for his comments on the legislative floor, said news outlets have misrepresented the story.
“She oughta be ashamed for what she did with that lying flyer. It was a lie and she knew it,” Chambers said during debate on July 24. “If Sen. Slama and her other Klan members knew this was a Legislature with any integrity, which she and they have none of, they would not have done that with one of your colleagues.”
The adjournment pushes back the vote for LB1053, a bill requiring regulations for hospital and nursing facility Medicaid reimbursement rates, until the session reconvenes on July 27.
The following is a transcript, edited for length, of the conversations on the floor of the Legislature July 24:
Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte:
Sen. Pansing Brooks and I are on political opposites of the world. In the six years we have served together, we have gone toe-to-toe many times on issues. We’re both very passionate people and believe in the issues. An incident happened again on the floor the other day between her and I. It happens. And that’s fine. We both agreed to leave it go, to not talk in the press about it because it’d be ‘he said, she said.’ Then, one of your colleagues, I used to think he was my colleague… So, now I have been assaulted by the 20 or 30 people that’s on his tweet list about something that was between me and Sen. Pansing Brooks. If it happened or not. I am getting vicious emails. Continued attacks. I had the news media come in because of somebody’s comment and tell me that I attacked Senator Pansing Brooks’ sexuality, which we all know I didn’t. I did not do that. Senator Pansing Brooks never accused me of that. The record needs to be straightened out. We had a debate over a very–I don’t know if there’s a more passionate issue than what LB814 was. And it was. We disagree, Sen. Pansing Brooks and I disagree 100% on that issue. But, we went onto the next issue. But, one of my colleagues did not. He spread a vicious rumor about me saying I reached a new low in a tweet. You know what, I don’t agree with my president tweeting. I don’t agree with any politician tweeting. We should be more mature than that. But, that’s where I stand folks. I have gotten hundreds of emails from people across the country–what I said that night about protecting the unborn, they agreed with me 100%. I won’t go into why I said “shut up” to senator. It had nothing to do, which is spread out there, about what she had said previously. It was what was going on at that moment.
Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln:
Well, I wasn’t going to discuss this at all because I think it’s important to have collegiality. But, I think that you’ll see that I did speak…You guys just a second, if I could get a gavel. I’ve never had that obscene gesture so aggressively pointed at me. And yes, maybe a lot of you didn’t see it. I know that a couple did because a couple raised their eyebrows when they saw that. So, I don’t know about the ‘he said, she said.’ I know that I’ve worked with Sen. Groene in the past. I have tried to work on (LB)147 with him. When he started in on the bill to talk about that I am a disgusting person, that I am not Christian. When he then went on to say this is all about what’s in the bedroom, why do you care so much about what’s going on in the bedroom. I finally had had enough and said ‘You’re the one that cares about what’s going on in the bedroom.’ And so, I’ve now been told by the speaker that I was chiding him at that point. And that that was inappropriate. Maybe it was, but it’s all a matter of who’s chiding whom because I was getting called names, I was being told I was disgusting, I was being told I was unchristian. And so it’s a matter of who threw the first stone. And I was willing to let it go. I was willing to move on. Sen. Groene first said ‘shut up’ and then he said ‘And you call yourself a Christian, amen” and then he sat down and he just glared at me with the most horrible look and just held his finger up in his lap for to me seemed a long time. I was undone by it, but I decided to move on. This is not something I think is appropriate. It is not something that I’ve ever had done to me before. And I don’t know why we’re talking about it all of a sudden except that it was brought up. I was horrified.
I’ve talked to many former senators who said they are blown away that nobody came to me and said ‘we support you, I’m sorry that happened to you that this wasn’t made more of a deal.’ But, you know, I guess I understand because sometimes when people are outspoken as I am and as Sen. Groene is, then everybody just thinks ‘Oh, well no problem.’ But, it is a problem. It’s a problem in this body to allow somebody and to go on and expect that it’s just in the normal course. What’s the next step? If I chided and that was his reaction? What should my reaction have been?
Mine is to sit down and be quiet, that’s what I’m being told. That what I experienced really wasn’t that important. It didn’t affect the rest of everybody, so I’m supposed to sit down and be quiet about the fact that I was insulted, my family was insulted, my whole integrity was insulted. Has anyone ever heard of this happening on the body of this floor ever in the history of a Nebraska Legislature, ever? The senators contacting me say that has never happened and that would never be allowed on the floor of the Legislature. But, it’s to one of the most progressive senators in the body, so I guess that’s really ok. By one of the most conservative senators in the legislature. I was not going to bring this up, I hadn’t brought it up. You saw what happened on the floors of Congress, so I guess we’re just miring down into this. What is my reaction supposed to be when somebody does that? Should I have gone and pushed him? Would that have been ok because he was chiding me by that gesture? What would’ve been my appropriate reaction? My reaction is supposed to be to sit down and be quiet. I was doing that.
Well, let me tell you what happened all day. I was heckled. Everybody heard it. Sen. Pansing Brooks kept making comments that were heard by lots of senators. I was totally distracted. I will admit the one mistake I did, I should have gavelled for silence instead of saying ‘shut up.’ Anything else was not on the record. Had nothing to do with the record, was not on TV. I gave her a universal sign to desist and quit harassing me. She was staring me down. I went like this. Look it up. Look it up what that signal means. Alright? That turned into other things. I’m not going to go into education committee and what happened in committee…and the un-collegiality about positions and (LB)147, how two senators voted for a committee statement and committee to be advanced and then turned around and wouldn’t advance the bill out. I won’t go into that. Now that’s collegiality folks, that’s how we get along here. As Sen. Morfeld said he wants to be a county attorney and he’s prejudging things by sending out tweets. I don’t know if that’s gonna work real well in a position to which he is trying to accede to, but that’s fine. No, I came here to get things done and defend rights and people. And I am getting viciously attacked. I don’t mind. I know who they are. They’re the real, left-wing Bernie-ites, whatever you wanna call it. On something that all generated from gossip by a senator who seen nothing and sent out a tweet. Please, my conservative friends, never send anything out on my behalf. I’ll do it myself… But, I’m tired of it. Take on the strong conservative, the straw dog and try to bring him down. Send a message to everybody else. Don’t say what you believe because we’re gonna act pious and take the guy down. Well, it ain’t gonna happen to Sen. Groene. Not at all.
The only reason I stood up is because this is getting back to my constituents and becoming fact, and they don’t know the whole story about the heckling. This senator assaulted me sexually for two years by calling me “sunshine.” Is that respectful? Finally, I had to confront the issue and say that is not collegial that is not my name, it is Sen. Mike Groene. So, let’s go where it’s at. People try to bring people down by belittling them, bring them down to their level. It didn’t happen and it won’t happen with Sen. Groene. But, I had to stand up because I am being defamed, attacked, claiming I said things on the mic that I didn’t say.
I will admit, I should’ve gaveled. But, I was totally distracted by the heckling that was going on. Any of these senators around the area heard it and they were all turning about the time I said that, trying to figure out where all that noise was coming from. I’ve never in six years seen anybody heckled on the mic like I was. So, let’s leave it at that. Sen. Pansing Brooks and I are never gonna be friends. We had a exec this morning, we were collegial, we got along. That’s as far as it’s gonna go because philosophically when I’m out of here in eight years, I’ll never see the person again, and she’ll never see me. That’s the way it should be here actually. Friendships get in the way of what you should do. I stood up for life and I’ve gotten tons of emails that what I said was accurate. You wanna know who Mike Groene is, I’m a family man, I’m married happily, I’ve been successful in business, I’ve been successful at this. You wanna know about anything personal about me, it’s none of your business. And I’m never gonna define myself that way. That’s the comments that we’re making on the floor. Define yourself by your soul not your flesh and you might end up in heaven. That’s my point. That was my point the other night. Now, tear that apart if you want, but that’s a belief I think an awful large number of Nebraskans believe. So, if you wanna go to petty…attacks, Sen. Morfeld, you go right ahead. If that’s who you are and that’s how you gain political clout within your 30 or 40 people who follow you on tweets, go ahead.