For a decade, state Sen. Stacey Campfield has been unafraid of making headlines.
“When I first got involved in politics, it wasn’t about running for office.”
–State Sen. Stacey Campfield
First as a state representative, and then in the Senate, he’s spoken his mind and put forth legislation that meets his stated goals of shrinking government.
Don’t look for that to stop any time soon.
“When I first got involved in politics, it wasn’t about running for office,” Campfield said. “It was during the [2000 George W.] Bush campaign. I thought he was way better than Al Gore, and when we won that race, it was exciting.
“I wanted to see more good conservatives running for office, and so I supported Steve Hall when he ran for [Knoxville] city council. I knocked on doors, put together signs, all the things you do working on a campaign. When he won, he said I should maybe run myself.”
Campfield opted to do so because he wanted to see change. He ran for a state House seat and lost. The next cycle, however, he ran again and won, and since then has been advocating conservative principles at the state Capitol. In recent years, as state Republicans have moved from minority to majority to supermajority, he says that has become both easier and more complicated.
“When I first came in, I was expecting a completely different place,” Campfield recalled. “I was thinking I would have ideas, and people would give them a fair hearing. Some would like them, some wouldn’t. I quickly learned under [then-House Speaker] Jimmy Naifeh that would not be the case.
“There wasn’t a lot going on that had a conservative lean to it, and so I realized we’d have to take over if we were going to see any of our stuff move.”
That takeover eventually happened, but he says he still has to work to see his ideas and proposals become actual legislation. He’s also had to learn how to negotiate the Senate, which he says is very different than the House.
“The Senate is like a waltz; everybody dances with everybody else,” he said. “The House is more like a nice pit fight. It’s much more a battle of ideas, and I enjoyed it immensely. I like that style of guerilla politics, and it’s a markedly different environment now.”
That said, he’s working on some specific pieces of legislation, and is finding success.
A bill that would undo a 2009 law allowing city councils and county commissions to ban guns in parks has advanced out of the Senate and is moving in the House. He’s also working on legislation that would rework eminent domain laws that would make it harder for governments to seize property.
“Right now, the definition of ‘blight’ is too broad, and we need to have very strict standards before the government can just take your property,” Campfield said.
“Just because they want the land for economic development doesn’t mean that it isn’t already at its highest and best use. If it’s a warehouse, that’s not blight – it’s a warehouse. And if they want the parcel next to yours, you shouldn’t lose yours, as well.
“It really needs to be done case by case, and parcel by parcel, so everybody gets a fair shot.”
He’s also drawing up legislation that would change how DUI offenders move around by making those who keep a restricted driver’s license bear one that’s a different color.
“We want these people to go to work, and have jobs, so we give them a restricted license,” Campfield said. “But the problem isn’t their driving, it’s their drinking. This bill would say that if you have one DUI or are a repeat offender, you have a pink driver’s license. It’s not valid for purchasing alcohol.”
Shepherding these bills and other legislation he’s involved with will make for a busy session, but he’s also got to find time for campaigning as he looks to hold his seat this fall.
But since he’s got a long way to go to advance his ideas, he says, he’ll make it work.
“I always have ideas; the trouble is narrowing them down,” he said. “Society and the world change, and so should some of our laws. Most of what I do is trying to restrict government.
“It’s not glamorous, but if I if I can give more freedom to the people, and take power away from government, then I am going to do that. It may only move the ball a little bit in one area, but I’m going to keep trying to make that happen.”