State Sen. Stacey Campfield chuckled Friday over comedian Stephen Colbert’s satirical characterization of him as a potential Republican presidential candidate — the latest example of the Knoxville lawmaker gaining national celebrity status through his legislative pursuits.
“It was funny,” said Campfield. “You can take anybody out of context and have fun with it. That’s what he (Colbert) does for a living, and he’s good at it.”
The eight-minute Colbert Report commentary, aired Thursday night on the Comedy Central TV channel, poked fun at national political figures ranging from Sarah Palin and political commentator Charles Krauthammer to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie
But the focus was on Campfield and two bills he is sponsoring in the General Assembly — one that would reduce welfare benefits to a recipient whose child does poorly in school and another officially entitled the “Classroom Protection Act” but widely known as the “Don’t Say Gay Bill.”
The legislation, Colbert suggests, puts Campfield in the category with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Jindal and Christie as a prospective contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
“I wonder if his super PAC is going to endorse me,” said Campfield. “If he’s ready with the money, I’m ready to talk.”
Yes, said Campfield, he is joking — just as Colbert was.
Colbert last year set up a Super PAC and used it as a theme in skits lampooning the political money system. After running about $1.2 million in ads, according to various reports, Colbert closed the PAC and distributed remaining funds to charities.
Campfield’s attempts at humor don’t always work. Jay Leno recently made fun of Campfield’s welfare bill and cited his use of the phrase “rocket surgeon” in a TV interview to question the senator’s own education and language skills.
“I say that all the time. It’s an old joke,” said Campfield, who nonetheless posted a video of Leno’s comments on his blog.
The Colbert segment on Campfield doesn’t mention Leno. It does have an excerpt from one of several recent Campfield dealings with national media, an interview with TMZ, which typically focuses on entertainment celebrities and which comedian Colbert called “the least gay of all news programs.”
Campfield said he is not seeking attention in such appearances, but feels the media often distorts his legislation and he wants to correct that, if possible, even if it means some confrontation.
“The only time I do media is if there a misrepresentation out there,” he said.
On the “Classroom Protection Act,” which has provisions calling for parents to be notified about a child’s homosexual activity under some conditions, the senator said, “There’s a misperception that we’re going to out little children who say ‘I’m gay’ or something like that… That’s not true. This is only dealing with someone abusing a child or a child abusing someone.”
“When I went on TMZ, they started out saying a lot of things that were just not true,” he said, but “to their credit” the interviewers heard him out and put the entire unedited interview online wherein the senator felt his explanation “took away a lot of the thrust of their arguments.”
Colbert lampoons Campfield’s TMZ comment that homosexual activists are “some of the biggest bullies out there” and his 2012 claim that AIDs originated from someone having sex with a monkey.
Colbert initially described Campfield as a “Tennessee state senator and lost Weasley brother” as the senator’s picture was displayed. Campfield, like the Weasley family in the fictional Harry Potter book series, has red hair.
The comedian’s closing statement in the segment: “So I say, bravo state senator! Or should I say future President Campfield? There is no way your educational ideas can fail. And if they do fail, we’ll take away your government check, you gay wad.”
Asked if such things could negatively impact chances for passage of his legislation, Campfield said he hopes that is not the case.
“For those who are doing their duty and actually reading and understanding the bills, no, I don’t think it matters,” he said. “For those who focus on the misperceptions and worry about their political future, it might.”
Campfield said he is not concerned about those in the latter category and feels obliged to push ahead with his legislative agenda. The two measures getting the most current controversy and comment are just two of 42 bills he has filed so far.
When a reporter suggested that the attention he has received from Colbert, Leno, Fox News, MSNBC, Huffington Post and other national media may leave him a better-known personality outside of Tennessee than Gov. Bill Haslam, Campfield responded with a quip:
“Bill who?” he said, adding after a brief pause that he certainly means no disrespect to the governor.
Note: This also appears in Saturday’s News Sentinel, HERE.