We all knew the state Senate 7th District race was going to be a slugfest, but now it’s starting to get downright nasty. In today’s News Sentinel, Tom Humphrey reports that state Sen. Stacey Campfield is questioning his opponent Dr. Richard Briggs’ residency in the district:
State Sen. Stacey Campfield contends that utility bills indicate Richard Briggs does not really live at the Farragut apartment that Briggs, his Republican primary opponent, has listed as his residence on election documents, potentially violating state law. …
Campfield said his campaign staff has conducted some research and “either Dr. Briggs and his wife haven’t taken a shower or flushed a toilet in several months or they don’t live at that apartment.” He provided copies of a Knoxville Utilities Board statement saying there was no record of an account at the address and two other documents indicating minimal water usage. The senator said researchers had also been told there was little or no use of water by Briggs’ accounts. …
Briggs said he rented the apartment in August 2012 before he contemplated running for the Senate. Before that, he said he lived in a condominium owned by his wife of 41 years, Stephanie, in River Sound on Fort Loudon Lake and not within the Senate district. The move came with extensive remodeling underway at the lake property, he said.
Briggs said he now lives at the apartment full-time, although he spends one in three nights at St. Mary’s hospital when on call as a physician. His wife spends much of her time during days — and evenings when he is on call — at the lake house.
The apartment has no washer or dryer, he said, and neither he nor his wife take showers there — he takes his either at a gym after daily exercise or at the hospital, and she takes hers at the lake home. But Briggs said he has not spent the night at the lake condo since February, following celebration of his wife’s birthday.
Briggs said Saturday during a phone interview he was sitting in the apartment and that he spends most of his time there. During the interview, Briggs said he found the current monthly bill from First Utility District — about $9 for water and $18 for sewer, totaling $28.81. …
“I don’t know what else to say,” Briggs said. “I’m here almost all the time, except when working.”
I don’t know if the low water bill is necessarily as damning as Campfield thinks it is—water bills at apartment complexes can be a lot lower than houses. (When I lived in a condo in Atlanta for a year, I never had a water bill over $30, even with a dishwasher and washing machine, and the bill generally was under $20 .) And for all I know, First Utility District charges a lot less than KUB for water.
It’s also totally plausible that Briggs mostly showers at the gym—lots of people, especially men who don’t have to deal with make-up and complicated hair routines—do that. And it makes sense that he wouldn’t buy a washing machine and dryer for a rental apartment when he (presumably) has one in his condo nearby. (The Lanesborough Apartments website says its units have washer/dryer hook-ups, but not the actual appliances.) But the part about his wife showering at the lake condo? That is odd. (To say the least.)
Here’s the thing, though—even if Campfield is right, and even if Briggs is totally lying, it’s going to take more than a couple of utility bills to prove it. And here’s the other thing—because it is so hard to prove residency, it’s pretty rare for these types of things to be legally challenged. Which is why this section of Humphrey’s story kind of stands out:
Campfield said others, whom he wouldn’t identify, had told him Briggs was apparently not living at the apartment and that they were considering “pressing charges” against the doctor. The senator said he instead decided to make the contentions public.
If those unidentified “others” even exist—doubtful, since Campfield frequently cites unidentified others when he wants it to sound like his dirty work isn’t coming from him—the reason Campfield is going public with this instead of letting them press charges is because there’s no evidence to press charges. I mean, do you really think for a second that Stacey Campfield wouldn’t let his supporters try to get his most serious challenger in the past 10 years charged with a felony? Because lying on your candidate petition about your residence is indeed a felony. (But when was the last time you remember anyone being prosecuted for that? )
The other issue—whether Briggs actually lives in the district he wants to represent—is a moot point. Humphrey doesn’t mention this in his story, but candidates don’t have to live in a certain district to run for a primary election in that district. They do have to have lived in the country they want to represent for a year prior to the election, but they don’t have to actually live in the specific district until 30 days before the general election.
This attack is rich, coming from Campfield. As we noted in our story on him this week, Campfield had the same issue back in 2002, when he ostensibly moved into another guy’s apartment in the House’s 18th District to run, changing his voter registration address from a property he owned in a different district the day before the deadline. The Knox County Election Commission didn’t find a problem with Campfield’s indeterminate residency then. I have a feeling it won’t find a problem with Briggs’ residency now. But in any case, expect the next few weeks to get ugly.
UPDATE: Briggs has responded, with documents, and says Campfield’s claims are off-base. Read the full scoop.