Ernie Chambers rejects French ambassador’s invite to discuss death penalty

November 24, 2018

LINCOLN — State Sen. Ernie Chambers says he’s declining an invitation to discuss the death penalty at the French ambassador’s residence in Washington, D.C., but the invite revived memories of a past, contentious visit to the nation’s capital by the outspoken lawmaker.

Chambers, the state’s longest-serving state senator, said he’s got too much to do to accept the Dec. 10 dinner invitation from France’s ambassador to the U.S., Gerard Araud.

“I’m not a social person,” the 81-year-old Chambers said.

But the representative of north Omaha did recall a 1979 visit to the White House at which the fur flew after he posed some sharply worded questions to President Jimmy Carter.

Several Nebraska civic and business leaders were invited to a briefing at the White House on Aug. 16, 1979, about the SALT II treaty, a pact — later ratified — by the U.S. and Russia, to curtail the manufacturing of nuclear weapons.

When Carter opened up the gathering for questions, Chambers, wearing his customary short-sleeved T-shirt, spoke up, according to a World-Herald story.

He said he disagreed with the president that the U.S. “was not a racist nation,” and asked Carter why he had fired Andrew Young as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

“Carter appeared to be nettled briefly,” the article said, then responded that Young had decided to resign, and if he didn’t believe him, he should talk to Young himself.

The president also said he didn’t think the nation was “racist at all,” which was greeted by applause from the audience of 360, including 170 from Nebraska.

“Chambers Arouses Ire” was the headline of a sidebar story, in which some in the Nebraska contingent expressed disgust over Chambers’ questions. But the senator earlier this week said he had nothing to apologize for. He said there had been no limitation placed on the questions that could be posed to the president.

The upcoming event at the French ambassador’s residence, according to the invitation, is designed to provide an off-the-record discussion of issues before the 7th World Congress Against the Death Penalty, planned in Brussels in 2019.

Chambers said that with slightly more than two years to serve before he is term-limited, there’s too much “remaining to be done” to take time out for a trip to Washington.

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