NASHVILLE — Tennessee Democrats on Friday criticized Sen. Dewayne Bunch, R-Cleveland, for what they say was a “flippant” comparison involving Nazis.
In a Senate floor debate Thursday, Sen. Bunch described child nutrition officials as “nutritional Nazi police.”
Sen. Bunch later apologized on the floor for his remarks. He said in an interview Friday he meant no offense and that his comment stemmed from a famous episode of the comedy sitcom “Seinfield” that featured an overbearing restaurant server dubbed the “Soup Nazi” by series star Jerry Seinfield, who is Jewish.
Sen. Bunch said his remark was a “poor analogy” and the “first thing that came to my mind” as he sought to offer a “light-hearted response” to questions about his bill, which lets schools sell 12-ounce drinks in addition to 8-ounce products.
In a news release, Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester called the remarks the “height of insensitivity to both the survivors of the 6 million Jewish people slaughtered by Nazis and to the millions of Americans who fought in World War II to end these atrocities. There’s nothing funny about this comment.”
The senator made the comments as Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, the Senate’s lone Jewish member, questioned whether the change in product size meant non-nutritional products could then be sold, according to a clip posted on YouTube.com.
Sen. Bunch said nothing would change and observed “Currently if you’re trying to be the nutritional Nazi police on the school campus, then you would need to have someone there to keep them from buying more than one product of 8 ounces.”
He said the bill was brought to him by an association for middle schools. Sen. Berke did not say anything in response and voted for the measure, which passed 30-1.
In state Democrats’ release, Sen. Berke said it “turns the word ‘Nazi’ on its head to use that term to describe people who are trying to help kids overcome obesity problems.”
Sen. Bunch said Friday he didn’t realize Sen. Berke was Jewish until someone mentioned it to him later. At that point, Sen. Bunch said, he went and offered an apology to Sen. Berke and then did the same in comments on the floor to colleagues.
Sen. Bunch said Friday he felt the state party was trying to generate an issue on “a slow news day.”
“As poor as my analogy was, this is a poorer attempt at partisan politics,” he said, noting Sen. Berke told him Thursday “he took no offense.”
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...