Let the campaigning begin for next year's Republican primary. On Friday controversial state senator Stacey Campfield made his first comments on the impending challenge in the 2014 election from Knox County commissioner Dr. Richard Briggs.
The incumbent said Briggs would not be able to claim Campfield's self-described status as a "Chic-fil-A family values conservative."
Dr. Briggs is a heart surgeon and has served on the Knox County commission for the last five years. Thursday night Briggs told WBIR he had filed the necessary paperwork to begin raising campaign funds for the District 7 Republican Primary in August 2014. That district covers parts of Knoxville and Knox County and is currently represented by first-term senator Stacey Campfield.
"It's something I've been thinking about since last September and said at the time I would wait until at least the New Year before announcing whether or not to run," said Briggs.
Announcing his candidacy now may allow Briggs to strike while the iron is hot, so to speak. Campfield has taken a lot of public criticism for a couple of bills he has introduced this session on social issues such as homosexuality and welfare.
"If you're waiting for someone to be a quiet little mouse and run away
and hide every time someone says something negative, it's not me," said Campfield.
The most recent proposals from Campfield include bills that would prohibit discussing homosexuality in schools as well as a proposal to cut cash welfare payments to families whose children are failing school. These proposals add to a long list of public controversies. In 2005 he unsuccessfully attempted to join the Black Caucus as a member of the House. In 2010 Campfield was accused of using campaign materials that implied he was endorsed by Tim Burchett without Burchett's permission. Then there are the repeated attempts to pass various forms of the aforementioned "Don't Say Gay" bill.
Campfield's recent proposals provided fodder for Steven Colbert's Colbert Report on Comedy Central. "It's gone from 'don't say gay' to 'gaaaay!'," joked Colbert.
"If I listened to the media reports, if I didn't know what my legislation
actually did, I'd be like geez that sounds terrible," said Campfield.
Campfield blamed the media for misrepresenting his proposals and taking his quotes out of context. He also criticized the overwhelming media attention on his proposals that deal with homosexual issues.
"One bill. You guys [the media] keep
talking about it every year, after year, after year. It's been one bill.
I've got 40 to 50 bills out there and you keep talking about it," said Campfield.
When asked why he continues to reintroduce the bill after failing in previous attempts, Campfield said, "Because I want it to pass. Why keep
Briggs said he wants to focus on what he is stand for rather than what he stands against regarding Campfield. However, he questioned Campfields effectiveness as a legislator who excels at grabbing headlines but falls short on actually getting things done on important issues.
"I want to go almost diametrically the opposite direction," said Briggs. "I want to bring businesses into the state, to create jobs, to create a better
educational system, and also to look to see what we can do to reduce the
cost of higher education."
Briggs said fellow Republicans pushed for him to challenge Campfield.
"Without a doubt, we've received a lot of encouragement throughout the
county, from everywhere from our business leaders to people that have
social concerns to everyday people," said Briggs. "The direction that he [Campfield] is going and his position is the wrong direction."
Entering the race this early may also allow Briggs to get a head start that deters other viable candidates from entering the race. Campfield narrowly won the 2010 primary in a three-man race with Ron Leadbetter and Steve Hill.
Inside Tennessee contributor Susan Richardson Williams is the former chair of the Tennessee Republican Party and helped raise money for Leadbetter's campaign in 2010. Williams said Campfield benefited from having multiple opponents.
"Each of those two credible candidates [Leadbetter and Hill] pretty much split the anti-Campfield vote," said Williams. "There are a lot of people who think what he [Campfield] does is goofy or controversial, but he wins."
"I'm a Chil-fil-A traditional family conservative. I'm not wavering on tax increases. I support the free market and I support the people's right to vote [for currently appointed public officials]. Those aren't things I think he [Briggs] can say."
Campfield said he's ready to compete with Briggs and welcomes criticism of his most controversial proposals.
"If he [Briggs] wants to stand against that legislation and he says he would vote against it, I beg him to come out and say that," said Campfield.
Friday afternoon 10News again spoke to Briggs via phone to get reaction to Campfield's comment. Briggs confirmed he absolutely stands against Campfield's welfare proposal because he does not believe the effective way to implement reform is to financially penalize families for a child's performance in school.
As for the Classroom Protection Act, Briggs said he needs to read it more closely before he can make any specific comments. However, Briggs voiced a general opinion that he wants government to stay out of people's lives as much as possible. He also said problems in schools are best handled by local school boards and the teachers who work with the issues first-hand rather than what Briggs described as "know-it-alls in Nashville who have never had a child of their own go through the public school system."
As of now the only paperwork that has been filed deals with the appointment of a campaign treasurer. Campfield and Briggs have filed for the Republican primary. Thus far Brian Joseph Stevens is the only democrat to file, according to the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance.
Reporter's Note: The full interviews with Stacey Campfield and Richard Briggs are attached to this article. Mobile users may have to navigate to the full website or the video section of the mobile app to view these items.