The head of a Knoxville political consulting firm has acknowledged to the TBI responsibility for an automated telephone survey asking voter opinions of state Sen. Stacey Campfield while declaring there was no intention of harassing those getting the calls or attacking Campfield, his attorney said Monday.
Ben Farmer, owner of Cyragon, LLC, spoke “in a very lengthy interview” to a TBI investigator last week and explained that the survey was a matter of “internal testing” of the firm’s surveying system that went awry through a “computer glitch” that caused many of the 2,000 targeted voters to receive multiple calls, said G. Turner Howard III, Farmer’s attorney.
The TBI has been investigating the “robo poll” at the request of District Attorney General Randy Nichols in response to an initial request to the TBI from Campfield. A TBI spokeswoman said Monday that the agency has not turned over its final report to Nichols and declined further comment because the matter is part of “an ongoing investigation.”
Campfield said Howard’s explanation for the calls was “ridiculous” and that Farmer’s acknowledgment indicated political motives. Farmer is a supporter of Richard Briggs, a Knox County commissioner and physician who has declared himself an opponent to Campfield in the 2014 Republican primary. Briggs’ first campaign financial disclosure shows $7,000 in payments to Cyragon.
After a conversation with Sen. Stacey Campfield, District Attorney General Randy Nichols said Wednesday he is asking the TBI to proceed with an investigation into whether state anti-harassment laws were violated by automated calls to voters asking their opinion of the senator.
Campfield told Nichols, according to interviews with both men, that he believes the calls were intended to make people mad at him and that a possible source of the calls was Ben Farmer, who owns Cyragon LLC, a political consulting company that has been paid $7,000 by the campaign of Richard Briggs, an announced opponent to Campfield in the 2014 Republican primary.
Briggs said he had nothing to do with the “robo poll” made late last month. Farmer has acted as a consultant to his campaign, he said.
Nichols said that preliminary inquires left it apparent that some people receiving the calls “felt they were harassed” and “we’re going to go a little deeper into it to see if we can determine who caused the calls to be made.”
Some people reported receiving repeated call backs – as many as 37 – and Campfield contends the calls appeared programmed to keep calling back the same number until the respondent gave an unfavorable opinion of Campfield.
Greg Johnson, conservative columnist who lives in Sevier County, takes a look at the House District 17 race (as lifted from the News Sentinel):
The race for the Republican nomination for state representative in the newly created 17th District could come down to voter turnout. Straddling the boundary between Sevier and Jefferson counties, district demographics tilt toward Jefferson, with 55 percent of the electorate.
But Sevier County attorney Andrew Farmer stands a good chance to win his first elective office. Farmer, a “general practice” attorney, has a heap of endorsements from Sevier County politicos, and enthusiasm is high in Sevier County over the possibility of electing two native sons to the state House. In the 12th District, either state Rep. Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, or Sevierville Alderman Dale Carr will carry the Sevier County banner in Nashville.
Farmer faces Jefferson County Commissioner Roger Griffith and retired businessman Larry Boggs of Dandridge in the Aug. 2 primary. Griffith, an engineer by trade, has shown a depth and breadth of understanding of the issues and has been impressive in debates. Boggs has been solid, if not quite as charismatic as Farmer or as passionate as Griffith.
Boggs, Farmer and Griffith all pass conservative litmus tests by saying they are pro-life, pro-gun owners, anti-tax and anti-spending. But Farmer wavers from conservative orthodoxy on education, refusing to support school vouchers even though the state Senate passed a voucher bill last session and Gov. Bill Haslam has promised to support a voucher program.
Both Griffith and Boggs have blasted Farmer over his statements about teachers’ unions. Farmer said at a tea party debate he supported the National Education Association, but later he amended his stance to say he meant to say the Tennessee Education Association and local union affiliates have “done some good things.” Asked at another debate last month to name those “good things,” Farmer said, “They back our teachers.”
In debates, the frontrunners appear to be Farmer and Griffith, with Griffith demonstrating a well-researched understanding of state fiscal issues. Farmer, a newcomer to politics, answers questions in generalities, though he did criticize the Republican-backed state investment in the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga.
Farmer’s command of the issues may not measure up to Griffith’s and he may not be as conservative as his opponents, but geography may trump ideology and preparedness. If Boggs and Griffith split the Jefferson County vote and Sevier County voters turn out strong for Farmer, the first representative from the new 17th District could be an inexperienced moderate.
In electing their new state representative this summer, Republican voters in parts of Jefferson and Sevier counties will choose either an engineer, a lawyer or a retired businessman who wants to take tax money from the state and give it to city and county governments.
The three candidates are vying in the Aug. 2 Republican primary for the House 17th District, which was redesigned by the Legislature earlier this year.
The engineer candidate is Roger W. Griffith, 50, of Jefferson City, a married father of nine who worked 14 years for TVA, then set up his own firm, specializing in the design of mechanical systems for commercial buildings. He currently serves on the Jefferson County Commission.
The lawyer is Andrew E. Farmer, 32, who returned from a Florida honeymoon with his bride last week. He is the grandson of a former Sevier County road superintendent making his first run for public office.
The retired businessman is Larry Boggs, 71, of Dandridge, a married father of four and grandfather of seven who grew up in Mississippi and spent much of his professional career, he says, as a “rescuer of broken plants” in the apparel industry, both inside and outside the United States.
While he came to political prominence as the “farmer from Frog Jump,” Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn., has decided in Washington that he’d rather serve on the committee that deals with banks rather than the committee that deals with agriculture, reports National Journal’s Hotline. (Fincher) was one of the media’s favorite subjects for profiling in the run-up to the 2010 elections. The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, among others, spotlighted the man they dubbed the “Farmer from Frog Jump” and his stewardship of a 2,500-acre farm that’s been in his family for seven generations.
But in Washington, Fincher has a decidedly different priority. Last month, Fincher won a coveted appointment to the House Financial Services Committee — a move that forced him to give up his spot on the Agriculture Committee.
“I am honored to join such a distinguished and prominent committee in the House of Representatives. During these times of economic uncertainty, the House Financial Services Committee will play an important role in creating jobs and fostering an environment that allows businesses to grow,” Fincher said in a press release announcing the move. “I am confident that my real world business experience will bring a strong frame-of-reference to the Committee and assist in developing strong public policy to turn our economy around.”
Fincher will no doubt reap the other great benefit of the Financial Services Committee: It’s a lot more lucrative to serve on a panel that interests banking lobbyists than on a panel that handles agriculture policy. Fincher was one of the better-funded first-time candidates in 2010.
But with a farm bill coming up next year, what would Fincher’s rural constituents — who make up 53 percent of his district — think about his move?
Fincher spokeswoman Sara Sendek tells us: “Financial Services is a tremendous opportunity to allow agriculture interests to be addressed. Access to capital, lending and ability to hedge risk are the cornerstones for agriculture success. Congressman Fincher’s background running his family farm brings forth a perspective that has not been heard on the Committee, especially as Congress is revisiting Dodd-Frank, which would restrict capital once fully implemented.”