Sens. Mike Groene and Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln got into a personal argument on the floor of the Legislature at the end of a week of debate that grew so bitter the Speaker adjourned Friday’s session early.
Groene said Pansing Brooks was heckling him as he was trying to make key points during debate, and he told her to shut up. He later apologized but the damage was done.
Sen. Adam Morfeld, an ally of Pansing Brooks, told his twitter followers that Groene flipped Pansing Brooks off. And, Pansing Brooks said Groene flipped her off “for what seemed like a long time,” called her unchristian and made other disparaging remarks.
Groene said he did not flip her off. He said he made gesture toward her – dropping the side of one hand into the palm of another — that meant knock it off.
The two are often at odds on major legislation, differing as a liberal and a conservative. They differed Tuesday on a bill that would prohibit dismemberment abortion.
Their debates during the week were some of the more hostile moments on the floor of the Legislature, where Speaker Jim Scheer has repeatedly called for civility.
Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha and Sen. Julie Slama of Peru also had heated words earlier.
Chambers made comments toward Slama on July 20, the Legislature’s first day back in session about a Slama campaign attack ad against her opponent Janet Palmtag. In the ad, Palmtag is pictured with Chambers and is accused of siding with “liberals, atheists and radical extremists.”
Republican and Democratic politicians called the ad racist and asked Slama to apologize. Former Gov. Dave Heineman, a Republican, and Bob Kerrey, a Democrat, governor and former U.S. senator, both said the ad was racist.
In Chambers’ comments on the floor, he implied that Slama had performed sexual favors for her success and spoke of the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings.
“Suppose I had raped white women?” Chambers said. “Suppose I enslaved Sen. Slama and used her the way that I wanted to?” Chambers said, seemingly striving to make the point that Jefferson was no saint, and racists who revere Jefferson don’t give consideration to blacks.
On Friday after Groene and Pansing Brooks defended themselves, Scheer said the conversation had disintegrated to an inappropriate level for the body.
“At some point in time, we have to learn to respect each other, respect each other’s comments, and pay attention to what’s being said on the floor,” Scheer said before he ordered the legislature to adjourn for the day. “Enough is enough. I asked at the beginning of this week that we have some decorum, that we would have some respect for each other. You don’t have to like each other, but you have to respect each other on this floor.”