State Sen. Stacey Campfield has received nationwide attention for championing plans to let teachers carry guns into classrooms and for a bill limiting what school officials can say to students about homosexuality.
(Photo: The Tennessean)
By Chas Sisk
NASHVILLE, TN - A nasty email that a Tennessee lawmaker fired off to several critics of his proposed "Don't Say Gay" legislation has unleashed a torrent of criticism online.
Republican state Sen. Stacey Campfield of Knoxville told at least three people who wrote his office that they should consider therapy and medication after they expressed opposition to legislation he has filed this session.
"You seem to have some serious, deep anger issues," read the identically worded messages. "Have you ever thought about therapy? I hear they are doing some wonderful things with medications these days."
Campfield signed the messages, "Yours in service."
Several national websites, including TMZ and Hollywood Gossip, published the reply. A thread on Reddit, a popular social media site, had drawn more than 60 comments by Friday afternoon.
"I was utterly shocked," said Telisha Arguelles Cobb, the Berry Hill, Tenn., woman whose letter appeared on Reddit.
Cobb, who used to live in the Knoxville area Campfield now represents, wrote the lawmaker to express her displeasure with his Classroom Protection Act, which would discourage classroom discussions of homosexuality, and his proposal to tie welfare benefits to children's performance in school.
In her note, which also was published on Reddit, Cobb said Campfield was "an embarrassment to our great state" and added, "You need to search your heart, your values and your Christianity to find a better way to represent us as a whole."
Campfield wrote back to Cobb and at least two others shortly before 12:45 p.m. Thursday using his legislative iPad. He said he did not know how many people he sent the same reply to, and he declined to discuss how identical wording came to appear in multiple messages.
But he said gay rights activists were trying to intimidate him by sending him rude emails and publicizing his reply.
"I'm not their little pinata," Campfield told The Tennessean on Friday. "I'm not going to put up with personal attacks."
Cobb was dismissive of Campfield's description of himself as a victim of intimidation.
"He's saying that I am trying to bully him," she said. "He's bullying the gay and lesbian community, he's bullying me, and he's bullying anyone else who does not share his opinion."
Others who received the reply also were surprised by the tone. Jacob Wilson, a 21-year-old college student, said his email to the senator had been harsh but not angry.
"As a politician, you should be prepared to handle things like this," Wilson said. "You should be professional every day."
State Sen. Bill Ketron, the Senate Republican Caucus chairman, said he wanted to look into Campfield's response but agreed he should respond professionally to his constituents.
"I think he would be held responsible by the voters who elected him, based on how they felt about his comment," Ketron said.
The contretemps came a day after the Tennessee Equality Project, a frequent foe of the senator, announced mockingly that it was starting a fund to get counseling for Campfield.
"We think that some good therapy could bring the senator to his senses," the organization said in a news release.
Campfield has ridden a wave of publicity this session. He has received nationwide attention for championing plans to let teachers carry guns into classrooms, under certain circumstances, and for the Classroom Protection Act, a revised version of the "Don't Say Gay" bill limiting what school officials can say to students about homosexuality, which failed during last year's session.
The senator also has made several television appearances to discuss his welfare proposal, which calls for cutting payments to families whose children do poorly in school by 30 percent or more. On Wednesday night, Jay Leno mentioned that bill and Campfield by name in his opening monologue.
Campfield touted the namedrop on his personal blog Friday morning. He said the mention qualified him to be mayor, a reference to Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, who achieved similar notoriety a few years ago when, as a state senator, he filed legislation allowing Tennesseans to eat roadkill.