In a charming display of camaraderie, local Republican legislators hold an informal competition each year over who can introduce the silliest bill. Stacey Campfield always wins, but that does not stop his peers from trying. Tim Burchett, a three-time silly champion from the pre-Campfield era who earned his stripes by legalizing road-kill harvests, is always game for joke legislation. This year he joined with Frank Niceley in a declaration of farmer anarchy. And Blount County Rep. Joe McCord and Morristown Sen. Steve Southerland introduced a silly water bill.
By any objective measure, Campfield won this year’s competition by calling for death certificates for aborted fetuses. He got national media attention, though he is already a media darling from past run-ins with ridiculousness. Campfield seems to be resting on his laurels. His effort is a bit too morbid, plus the humor gets creepier when you discover that Campfield has also sponsored bills erecting legal obstacles for victims of sexual or domestic violence and amending divorce and child custody laws. Deadbeat dads probably do not have a formal lobby, but Campfield and Cleveland Sen. Dewayne Bunch are guarding their interests just the same.
In my estimation, Burchett and Niceley deserve this year’s award. Their entry is light-hearted and clever. They said farmers who do not accept state or federal subsidies should be exempt from state and federal rules and regulations. They took “taxation without representation is tyranny” and stood it on its head, turning it into “regulation without compensation is tyranny.”
Ideological fervor has been known to curdle conservative gray matter, but Burchett and Niceley wink to let us know they are joking. Their bill’s preamble is: “Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary...” They know obeying the law is not contingent upon cashing a government check, but, gosh, if a farmer won’t take government handouts, shouldn’t we hand him an exemption from being governed?
Presumably, these jokers do not count public roadways, a stable currency, national defense or any other common government benefit as a subsidy, or their bill would become so silly as to be meaningless.
Even silly bills need cost estimates, and state officials estimated it would take two bureaucrats with laptops to determine which farms get no state or federal payments and therefore deserve entry into libertarian valhalla. Campfield’s bill would add no bureaucrats, just $69,000 worth of training for physicians and medical officials. Other than the numerical innuendo, probably coincidental, Campfield’s costs just aren’t as funny as Burchett and Niceley’s, so they win the contest with their sly perversion of a revolutionary slogan.
For pure audacity, you must give a hat tip to the McCord/Southerland bill, which puts $2,100,000 in federal funding at risk by violating the federal Clean Water Act. They want to create a new category of waterway that deserves no protection. They call it “limited resource waters,” not particularly humorous, and Southerland may have violated the spirit of the competition by introducing an amendment that completely swaps out the original wording for new terminology. While funny as a procedural move, the new language gets into water chemistry and unfunny phrases like “attainment of the uses.” Moreover, their bill is actually being taken seriously, a faux pas in this contest.
Frankly, I’m not sure these guys understand the game. The wetlands and waterways they want to abandon flow into waters we want to keep clean, and clean water is one of our most valuable sustainable resources. Their logic is akin to declaring capillaries an expendable part of the human circulatory system. It’s almost like they want to foul a critical public resource for the sake of petty private gains, and that is just silly. m