Chambers says the ‘worm has turned’ in verse to political adversary Fortenberry

By: - March 23, 2022 9:09 am

Director and producer Bill Jersey, left, and Nebraska State Sen. Ernie Chambers attend the AMPAS hosts a screening of “A Time For Burning” at the Academy Theater in New York City in 2008. (Bryan Bedder/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES — Former State Sen. Ernie Chambers has been out of office for two years, but he couldn’t resist a recent chance to get in a dig against a former political adversary. 

Chambers, now 84, sent a letter to U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, just prior to last week’s start of the congressman’s trial for allegedly lying to federal agents.

“The metaphorical ‘worm has turned,’” wrote Chambers in the letter, which he shared with the Nebraska Examiner. “And the serious federal charges lodged against you are in no sense metaphorical but, rather, literal.”

Chambers was referring to a political spat in 2015 that erupted after the North Omaha senator compared police to the Islamic extremist group ISIS.

Police are my ISIS

“My ISIS is the police,” Chambers said during a legislative committee hearing, after hearing someone testify that they needed to carry a concealed weapon in Nebraska because of concerns about ISIS.

Chambers, an African-American, defended his remark and said he would continue to criticize police when they use excessive force or make mistakes.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., speaks during the Malaria No More reception at Top Of The Hill on March 1, 2011, in Washington, D.C. (Kris Connor/Getty Images)

But the comment brought condemnation from several state senators, as well as a show of support for police, and prompted a press release from Fortenberry. The Republican congressman said Chambers should be censured “at a minimum” for the comment and for his refusal to “take back his words.”

‘A delectable irony’

Chambers, in his typewritten letter, wrote that he detected “a delectable irony” in Fortenberry’s current situation. He offered some “rhyme” to provide “something to distract your obviously and justifiably troubled mind.”

Requests from comment from Fortenberry’s office and from his campaign were not answered.

Chambers, who was known in the Legislature for writing poetry and for daily “Ernie Grams” to his colleagues, wrote the following: 

A well-worn maxim goes:

“One reaps just what one sows.”

Most accept the maxim’s words as true.

 You, of course, did not surmise

 That some of your political lies

Would boomerang and put “the bite” on you.

Gleefully, opponents may gloat

That you are in a sinking boat — 

And then they’ll lay a wager: I will bet,

When your criminal trial is done,

You shall be the guilty one

Who’s taunted by the public: “You’re all wet!” 

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. He started his career reporting for the Omaha Sun and later, editing the Papillion Times group in suburban Omaha. He joined the Lincoln Journal-Star as a sports enterprise reporter, and then a roving reporter covering southeast Nebraska. In 1990, he was hired by the Omaha World-Herald as a legislative reporter. Later, for 15 years, he roamed the state covering all kinds of news and feature stories. In the past decade, he served as chief of the Lincoln Bureau and enterprise reporter. Paul has won awards for reporting from Great Plains Journalism, the Associated Press, Nebraska Newspaper Association and Suburban Newspapers of America. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation, a member of the Nebraska Hop Growers and a volunteer caretaker of Irvingdale Park in Lincoln.