n politics, sticks and stones may break your bones, though they rarely do in the literal sense these days. But words, especially your own, can really harm you.
Or so it sometimes seems.
Whether you’re a Republican congressman who mentions “legitimate rape,” a Democratic president remarking “you didn’t build that” or a vice president speculating on people being “back in chains,” national political news seems dominated by exaggeration and extrapolation of rhetorical missteps made by those who stray from scripted talking points prepared by well-paid public relations professionals.
Here in Tennessee, we have a long history of entertaining, controversial and seemingly impolitic utterances. Say, for example, Davy Crockett’s famous statement: “The hell with you all, I’m going to Texas.”
State Sen. Stacey Campfield says a colleague’s reference to a rat’s rump in a rebuke to the Legislature’s Black Caucus has become a “catch phrase” among members of Tennessee’s delegation to the Republican National Convention.
Expanding in a telephone interview on comments made in blog posts from the convention, the Knoxville lawmaker also said Wednesday the Black Caucus is a “segregationist organization” that should be ignored, just as Sen. Jim Summerville, R-Dickson, suggested in a controversial email.
That email, sent to Rep. Barbara Cooper, D-Memphis, with a request that she forward it to other members of the Black Caucus said: “I don’t give a rat’s ass what the Black Caucus thinks.” He was responding to a Black Caucus comments on a Senate subcommittee report.
Rep. Larry Miller, D-Memphis, chairman of the Black Caucus, said Campfield’s remarks were “asinine.” Adam Nickas, executive director of the state Republican party, said in an email that Campfield was wrong about use of the phrase at the convention.
“The only catch phrase I’ve been hearing is, “We built it,” in response to President Obama’s degrading comments to hard working small business owners,” Nickas wrote.
“In regards to Mr. Campfield and Summerville’s comments: We do not endorse their comments and they are not reflective of the view of the state party. Such statements are simply ridiculous.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — State Sen. Jim Summerville on Friday resigned from the Senate Education Committee after being stripped of his subcommittee chairmanship over an email that insulted the Legislature’s black caucus.
The Dickson Republican has been criticized for sending an email to the chairwoman of the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators saying: “I don’t give a rat’s ass what the black caucus thinks.”
Senate Education Chairwoman Dolores Gresham stripped Summerville of his chairmanship of the higher education subcommittee for the remark, but the senator appeared unrepentant in brief remarks to reporters on Friday morning.
“Which part wasn’t clear? The matter speaks for itself,” he said. “Maybe I could have used a more artful term like a ‘rodents posterior.'”
The black caucus had sent Summerville an official response to a hearing over complaints about Tennessee State University’s handling of grade changes. The group called the allegations “much ado about nothing” and questioned why the historically black university was singled out for a legislative investigation.
Summerville did not give a reason for his resignation from the committee in a handwritten letter to Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville.
Democrats have demanded an apology, but Summerville hasn’t given one.
— Note: WKRN reports Summerville also made an obscene gesture to a TV news crew, story HERE.
State Sen. Jim Summerville was removed Thursday as chairman of the Senate Higher Education Subcommittee after an email sent from his personal email account used a graphic term to convey to the legislature’s black caucus his view of its response to a hearing Summerville chaired last week on grade changes at Tennessee State University.
Further from Richard Locker: “I am very disappointed in the unfortunate choice of words and tone used by Senator Summerville in responding to Rep. (Barbara) Cooper,” Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, said in a statement Thursday. “There is a standard of courtesy that must be observed by members of the General Assembly and this went beyond what is acceptable. He has been removed as the Senate Higher Education Subcommittee Chairman.”
Summerville, R-Dickson, did not return repeated calls and emails from reporters to his home and office for comment. The email was sent to Cooper, D-Memphis, Wednesday night and, apparently at Summerville’s request, she forwarded it to her colleagues in the black caucus and other legislators. Summerville is a freshman lawmaker known for his candid public statements.
The message from a personal email address that Summerville has publicly posted as his says: “I don’t give a rat’s ass what the black caucus thinks. Jim Summerville”
The subject line of Summerville’s email to Cooper says “Please share this response with your colleagues”.
The email address, firstname.lastname@example.org, is one that Summerville has publicly posted as his personal contact for several years on various websites, including the National Association of Scholars, of which he was Tennessee chapter president. He is an adjunct professor of history at Austin Peay State University.
Cooper could not be reached for immediate comment but Rep. Larry Miller, D-Memphis, chairman of the legislative black caucus, said that if the message is from Summerville, “that’s appalling. Not only does he embarrass himself, he embarrasses the entire state of Tennessee by making a statement like that. It makes you wonder what his state of mind was at the time. Why would a state senator even think that and why would you put it out publicly?
— Note: Statement from House Democratic Caucus, Democratic party below.