LINCOLN — Don't look for a Gov. Doogie Howser in Nebraska any time soon.

Any chance Nebraskans had of electing an 18-year-old chief executive died at the hands of Nebraska's oldest lawmaker, Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha.

Supporters of a constitutional amendment to lower the minimum age for governors, lieutenant governors and state senators needed 33 votes to break a filibuster by the 79-year-old Chambers. They got 26 votes following four hours of debate that fell mostly along generational lines.

As originally proposed, Legislative Resolution 26CA also would have allowed 18-year-olds to be appointed to the Nebraska Supreme Court. Under current law, 21 is the minimum age for senators, while Supreme Court judges, the governor and lieutenant governor must be at least 30.


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The measure made it through the first round of debate on a 27-11 vote, but in the second round, Chambers deployed a familiar filibuster strategy in an attempt to kill the bill. During the ensuing debate in the 49-member Legislature, millennial senators spoke in favor of the resolution while Chambers and a host of baby boomers opposed it.

Eight of the Legislature's nine senators under the age of 40 voted to break the filibuster. Of the 18 senators who essentially voted to kill the measure, the youngest was 44 and most were older than 60.

At least six states permit candidates as young as 18 to run for governor, while Kansas lists no age requirement, according to the Council of State Governments. Seventeen states allow 18-year-olds to serve in their Houses, while 13 permit senators that young. In Iowa, the governor must be at least 30, while House members must be 21 and Senate members must be 25.

The opponents of the Nebraska proposal argued that the complexities of lawmaking and governing require more than 18 years of life experience. "I don't think 18-year-olds are seasoned enough to hold office," Chambers said.

Supporters of the resolution argued that some teenage candidates could easily handle the responsibility. But they admitted that it would take a true wunderkind to raise millions of dollars for a gubernatorial run, someone like Doogie Howser, the fictional teenage doctor depicted in the popular TV show from the early 1990s.

Sen. Tyson Larson of O'Neill, who sponsored the resolution, said if an 18-year-old is qualified to vote, he or she is qualified to hold office. Others argued that those old enough to serve in the military are old enough to serve in the State Capitol.

"Who are we to judge life experiences," asked Larson, first elected to the Legislature five years ago at 24.

In an effort to rally the votes needed to break a filibuster, Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln offered amendments to keep the higher age limits for Supreme Court and the governor. Morfeld, 30, said the amendments were an effort to address objections expressed by some of his older colleagues.

But Chambers called the amendments demeaning to the Legislature and kept up his filibuster. He didn't relent when Larson offered to let the resolution be sent back to committee for more work.

"It's unfortunate when middle ground is found, (but) some refuse to let middle ground happen," Larson said.

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"I don't think 18-year-olds are seasoned enough to hold office."

State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha

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