NASHVILLE — State Sen. Stacey Campfield likened signing up for "Obamacare" to Jews taking a "train ride" during the Holocaust on Monday, drawing prompt condemnation from state leaders of both major political parties.
The Knoxville Republican said the Tennessee Republican and Democratic party chairmen "missed the point" of his comparison, posted on his blog Monday morning under the headline "Thought of the day." The post reads:
"Democrats bragging about the number of mandatory sign ups for Obamacare is like Germans bragging about the number of manditory (sic) sign ups for 'train rides' for Jews in the 40s."
State Democratic Chairman Roy Herron said in a statement the comment "is just the latest example of Tea Party Republican extremism."
"To compare attempts to save American lives through access to health care with Nazis killing European Jews is outrageous, pathetic, and hateful," wrote Herron in the emailed statement.
State Republican Chairman Chris Devaney was at least as critical, if not more so, in denouncing Campfield's comments, declaring in an email statement:
"While Stacey Campfield routinely makes remarks that are over the top, today's comments are ignorant and repugnant. No political or policy disagreement should ever be compared to the suffering endured by an entire generation of people. Those comments have no place in our public discourse. He should offer an apology to members of the Jewish faith immediately."
State House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, also called for a Campfield apology. McCormick said he was "shocked" that Campfield's "disgraceful blog post compared a policy dispute with the suffering of an entire race of people ... and any effort to cheapen that suffering is distasteful and classless."
Campfield said in a telephone interview "it was never my intent to insult anyone," but he is not making an apology and believes the analogy is appropriate.
"I think Jewish people should be the first to stand up against Obamacare," Campfield said. "If government is controlling people's health insurance, they are potentially controlling people's lives ... letting the government choose who lives and who dies."
Asked specifically about the state GOP chairman's comments, Campfield said Devaney had not contacted him before issuing the criticism, and "I guess if he wants to apologize for Obamacare, he can."
The latest flap over Campfield comments comes with the senator facing a formidable challenge in the Aug. 7 Republican primary for state Senate District 7 from Richard Briggs, a physician and Knox County commissioner who last month reported a cash-on-hand balance in his campaign account of $157,459. Campfield, who as an incumbent could not accept contributions during the legislative session that ran through April 17, had just $22,831. Mike Alford, a third candidate in the GOP primary, did not file a report -- required only when a candidate has raised or spent more than $1,000.
Briggs said he had no comment on Campfield's blog post or the party chairmen responding to it.
"It's just something I'll let him (Campfield) do all the commenting on," said Briggs.
Alford could not be reached for comment.
Cheri Siler, who is unopposed in seeking the Democratic nomination in Senate District 7, sent media this statement:
"With so much at stake in the state of Tennessee, we cannot afford to have our elected officials making inflammatory statements of this magnitude. It is deplorable that Campfield is trivializing the loss of millions of Jews. He is clearly politicizing this sensitive subject to get free earned media. By his own words, he proves that he is as cheap as he is classless."
Siler reported a cash-on-hand balance of $4,810.
Campfield also sent media a followup statement on the blog post.
"I regret that some people miss the point of my post. It was not to offend. It was to warn. To draw attention to Obamacare and the slippery slope that I see occurring in the lives of myself, my constituents, and the rest of the country with the continued taking of freedom by the federal government," Campfield said.
"In no way was my post meant to diminish or detract from the pain, suffering and loss of human life that occurred during this dark time in human history. Instead the post was meant to draw attention to the loss of freedom that we are currently experiencing. I stand by my steadfast opposition to Obamacare," he said in the emailed statement.
"My position and record on the sacredness of human life and protecting that life speaks for itself. 300 million Americans are at risk from government bureaucrats deciding who should be given life saving medications and who should be denied. Every citizen now faces the possibility of their tax dollars going to pay for a government funded abortion.
"At no point in our history have we ever faced a federal government and administration with a lower regard for human life, and that is something that I cannot and will not allow to go unchallenged. I will continue to stand up against the government takeover of the nations healthcare. I will continue to support freedom and life," he wrote.
The federal government recently announced, after passage of the deadline for signing up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, which many Republicans call Obamacare, that more than 8 million people enrolled nationwide, including 151,352 Tennesseans. President Barack Obama said the figures show "this thing is working" and criticized Republicans for not accepting the situation. Other Democrats also hailed the enrollment figures as an indication the program is working to broaden health insurance coverage.
Other Republicans also issued critical statements on the enrollment figures, though not with anything approaching Campfield's analogy. U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, for example, sent this comment to media:
"I don't believe you can force Americans to do something by law, and then tout the numbers who comply with it as a sign of good policy."