State Rep. Stacey Campfield indicated he was somewhat taken aback with the imagery invoked by Sen. Thelma Harper when she criticized him for limiting lawmakers’ questioning during an oversight hearing this week.
Campfield, who chairs the State and Local Government subcommittee, was about to wrap up an examination of the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission when he was alerted that the Nashville Democrat wanted to quiz ABC Executive Director Danielle Elks.
As Harper was about to speak, Campfield, R-Knoxville, interjected that he’d “give (her) the same thing, ten minutes” that he’d previously said was the limit for other lawmakers sitting in on the hearing who weren’t regular committee members.
Harper subsequently expressed her displeasure with the temporal restriction, employing reference to ligature strangulation to suggest Campfield was potentially choking off important discussion.
“Well, you can give all you want, that’s fine with me,” Harper said. “But just realize that your constituents sent you here to serve and mine did too, so all these limitations and things…you’re treating us like less than elected officials, and you want to put nooses around our necks to keep us from talking.”
“I think we should respect each other as elected officials. Sometimes it takes longer than 10 minutes,” she continued.
Harper went on to ask the ABC official about the status and background of a federal lawsuit over direct-to-consumer wine sales in Tennessee. Her questions and the responses by Elks took just under five minutes.
Campfield later said Harper’s reproach caught him off guard.
“A little over the top, don’t you think?” said Campfield. “I was like, ‘OK, you’re not even on the committee.’ But I just let her go off on her little rant.”
“Other people have told me she’s done that kind of stuff before,” he added.
Campfield said he imposed the time limit because he “didn’t want to get to the point where, if the room was reserved for a certain period of time, committee members wouldn’t have time because non-committee members were going to go off on some tirade or something.”
Harper isn’t listed as an official member of the Joint State and Local Government subcommittee. However, she is vice chair of the Senate Government Operations Committee, under which the subcommittee operates.
“I find it offensive that they try to limit the questions that you can ask, and the time for the responses,” Harper said later, offering no apologies. “I said what I had to say, and that was appropriate for the way he conducted the meeting. I gave him my expressions.”
She added that Campfield “didn’t say one word afterward.”
“I didn’t know he was still thinking about it,” she said. “The bottom line is, if we can’t ask questions and get proper responses, then how are we to function as legislators?”
Campfield said Harper will have ample opportunity take up issues with the beleaguered commission (pdf) when ABC officials appear before the full Government Ops Committee.