Among my many infirmities is an inexplicable willingness, even eagerness, to watch, unforced and under no duress of any kind, the daily proceedings of the Nebraska Unicameral (I also possess an unaccountable predilection at times to watch paint dry and ice melt). My personal quirkiness aside, I find the dynamics and interplay among our 49 esteemed senators sometimes noteworthy, more often trivial, usually demagogic, but always fascinating. Imagine, if you will, the spectacle of nearly half a hundred presumably mature and intelligent folks milling about in the stone sepulchre that is the George W. Norris Legislative Chamber, each trying to appear more serious and magisterial than the other 48. It is student council writ large, a veritable bouillabaisse of posturing, affectation, and poseur, with heavy overtones of faux gravitas and sham hale-and-hearty.
Or so it often seems.
Most of this, of course, is forgivable (if not understandable), since the bone and sinew of politics is the ability to seem engaged and interested when one could care less about whatever someone else is droning on about. We all know that when we send them there; we expect it, we tolerate it, and as our reward, very occasionally one or two of them actually have a good idea and even more occasionally, act on it. This is what legislatures do, and it is our (we the voters) lot to be properly appreciative of such efforts expended on behalf of the public weal.
So it is in that spirit of appreciation that I single out Senator Beau McCoy who represents District 39 (northwest Omaha, Waterloo, Valley) for recognition of estimable performance in the line of duty. Beau distinguished himself by being the one unicameralite in nearly 40 years to stand up to Ernie Chambers’ incessant yapping and say, at least metaphorically, “Enough.” For nearly 4 decades, timorous senators have been meekly handing over their lunch money to schoolyard bully Ernie, privately castigating his frivolous and offensive tactics on and off the floor of the legislature, but afraid to confront him. Senator McCoy changed all that. How, you ask? By simply refusing to engage him.
One of Ernie’s favorite dodges is to employ the ruse of asking permission on the floor of the legislature to ask another senator a question. One of the rules of the body is the senator who is to be questioned must give his permission before he can be queried. The other senators use this tactic simply to gain information from each other on a specific point – it is a system rooted in collegiality and serves to enable senators to interact systematically and efficiently without much parliamentary monitoring. Ernie however uses it to trick and trap unwary opponents, in what he doubtless thinks is an enormously clever utilization of the Socratic method of discourse. He will ask an unanswerable question of the ‘do you still beat your wife’ variety, then engage in soaring and incoherent soliloquys on the stupidity, incompetence, or moral turpitude of his hapless victims, laced with racist rant and often incomprehensible oration that makes James Joyce’s prose seem a model of clarity.
On Thursday morning, January 30, 2014 (a day that will live in righteous esteem) Senator Beau McCoy answered Ernie’s sneering “Will Senator McCoy yield for a questions?” with a simple “No – I will not” and went on about his business. Not once, but four times. It was a thing of beauty. Ernie gaped and harrumphed and eventually wandered off down some other twisting expository path, but, at least for that morning, the door to another Ernie-fest had been closed – tightly … and I loved it.
Ernie is a pain in the neck; his sophomoric behavior is without discernible benefit to the legislature, the citizens of Nebraska, or the practice of representative government. In the main, he serves only to obstruct and obfuscate a process which by itself is more than sufficiently difficult and complex. Maybe now some of our other representatives at the Capitol will find the cojones to tell Ernie to go fish once in a while. ‘Twould be a good thing for us all.
Thanks again, Beau.