It's actually going to happen: State Sen. Stacey Campfield will indeed debate comedian J. LaLonde (a former morning disc jockey at WNFZ before he moved to Brooklyn in 2011) on Sat., March 30, at 8:30 p.m. at the Square Room. LaLonde previously debated with Campfield on his radio show several times, and after hearing about Campfield's more recent forays into headline-generating bills and commentary, he wanted to return to East Tennessee for another showdown.
"I post something on Facebook, and he responds, and we're talking trash, and the next thing you know, I challenge him to a debate, and we agreed to raise money," LaLonde says. "I think he enjoys the spotlight just as much as a comedian would, except his bills don't have punchlines to them, and sometimes they should."
Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett will moderate the debate.
"Tim Burchett is a friend of mine, and he used to be on my radio show all the time as well, and he belongs to the same political party as Stacey Campfield, so already there's a little weirdness there. All of us disagree on a lot of different things," LaLonde says. "He has a unique perspective and obviously he understands the politics. And Burchett knows me well enough to know I'm a goofy man."
After navigating through their busy schedules (Campfield travels regularly between Knoxville and Nashville, and LaLonde performs nightly in Brooklyn) and making sure Campfield wasn't violating any ethics codes since the state Legislature is still in session, LaLonde went about choosing a venue.
"The Square Room is in Market Square, and I know Jack Neely wrote a book called Market Square: The Most Democratic Place on Earth. What is more democratic than this event? You have a loud jackass comedian questioning the authority of a respected elected official and Stacey Campfield. It's going to be good," he says.
In the run-up to the debate, LaLonde will be raising money ("all in the name of tolerance") for their agreed-upon charity: the pro-life Choice Resource Center in Oak Ridge, which offers counseling to men and women who find themselves facing unplanned pregnancies, as well as parenting classes, pregnancy tests, and STD testing. (The clinic states on its website that it "has extensive educational resources about abortion, but we do not provide or refer for abortion services.")
Because the state Legislature is still in session, Campfield legally cannot raise or donate money.
"I think people will sit back, watch, and they're going to see an elected official be questioned in front of his own constituents. And that, to me, sounds like a lot of fun," LaLonde says.
Campfield and Burchett were not available to comment at press time.