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January 27, 2012 9:12 AM Running Wild in the States

By Ed Kilgore

Every progressive blogger knows that if you are stuck finding material to feed the hungry maw, you can always troll around advocacy sites or regional newspapers and come up a story of some conservative state legislator doing or saying something absolutely crazy.

Yesterday it was Oklahoma state senator Ralph Shortey, who introduced legislation to ban the marketing of food containing aborted human fetal matter. Today it’s Tennessee state senator Stacy Campfield, an unusually uninhibited homophobe who has made opposition to anti-bullying initiatives his main purpose in public life. There are entire areas of state legislative activity scattered across the country that are based on hallucinatory threats, most notably the struggle against the imminent imposition of Shariah Law.

It’s easy to make fun of this stuff, and also easy to exaggerate its importance. But craziness does indeed come in waves. It’s no accident that not one but two extremist loners in Congress, Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul, were able to launch credible presidential campaigns this year. And it should be clear by now that the Class of 2010 is already rivalling the Class of 1994 as a cohort of state lawmakers drawn to an unusual degree from people with views previously considered outside the mainstream. Worse yet, these new solons were immediately thrown into a redistricting cycle that will enable many of them to draw themselves more favorable districts and stick around longer than you might have originally imagined.

So to keep it all in perspective, it’s helpful to develop the knack of distinguising the isolated cranks from the broader trends that make their crankiness relevant as something other than entertainment material. Once this election cycle is over and a least a few extremist legislators are either purged by their embarassed colleagues or repudiated by the buyer’s remorse of constituents—and keeping in mind that presidential election years elicit an electorate that is inherently less hospitable to right-wing candidates—it will be interesting and valuable to see how much of the craziness has endured to become part of the political landscape.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • SYSPROG on January 27, 2012 9:49 AM:

    I think the crazies have always been there. The Intertubes just give more 'sunshine' to their craziness. As more and more people get online they are being exposed. We used to keep ours (Wa. State) under wraps but I have seen them popping up on blogging sites. I went to an organizing meeting last night and was it was amazing to see all the 'old' people with tablets that were scrolling twitter feeds and then looking up horrified during the debates.

  • Glenn on January 27, 2012 9:58 AM:

    Great post, Mr. Kilgore, and welcome to Political Animal! It's hard to imagine a better successor to Steve Benen than you.

    One little word choice comment, if I may: in referring to Stacy Campfield, "an unusually uninhibited homophobe," I wonder if "disinhibited" might be a more fitting word to describe him/her. It's not that "uninhibited" is wrong or inaccurate, but, rather, that I just so like the word "disinhibited" that I try to use it whenever I can to describe unhinged, otherwise inexplicable behavior. Plus, it "disinhibited" implies some sort of psychiatric disorder (if my understanding of the word's provenance is correct), which just makes the word all the more appropriate in this context.

  • AtlasMugged on January 27, 2012 10:02 AM:

    What's old is new again. Back in the 90's we had whackadoos like Rep. Chenoweth of Idaho claiming that the EPA sent black helicopters to farms because government employees from big cities hated rural Americans. This type of crazy often is rewarded due to gerrymandering and the difficulty of throwing out incumbents. The sad yet telling thing is that you see this conspiracy mongering frequently among conservative elected officials, but rarely among progressive members of Congress.

  • internet tough guy on January 27, 2012 10:05 AM:

    It's interesting what Republicans will choose to regulate:

    human fetal matter = ZOMG BAN PLZ
    human fecal matter = ZOMG Y U HAET BUSINESS

  • martin on January 27, 2012 10:20 AM:

    This Week In Crazy Legislation sounds like a perfect replacement for This Week In God.

  • SKM on January 27, 2012 10:21 AM:

    Every now and then I will listen to 'rightwing' radio talk shows, just to see what they are talking about, as long as I can tolerate listening to it.

    This one is about the only one that made sense. A caller to one of these shows mentioned that visitors/tourists are told not to drink the water in Mexico. Yet, when he goes to the grocery store, that all he can find is fruits and vegetables from Mexico.

    It must be noted, that not all of our foodstuff is grown in Mexico. Another note, most of the farmers from the U.S. have moved most if not all of their operations to Mexico and Brazil.

  • Kathryn on January 27, 2012 10:21 AM:

    Rachel had the head of the Democratic Party in Georgia as a guest last night. Apparently, a court in that state, with the involvement of the state Attorney General ( think I heard that right), is trying to get Pres. Obama off the ballot in 2012. A court there actually ordered the president to appear before it and is pursuing that aim with the support of the AG. Orly Taitz is behind it. The Democrats are on the case, but seriously this crap is sickening and relentless.

  • c u n d gulag on January 27, 2012 10:24 AM:

    Does this mean I have to get rid of my Sharia Cookbook?

    They have a great recipe for Braised-fetus.

    These lunatics have funny priorities. Here we are, trying to crawl out of another Depression, with people like me out of work for years, and they're worried about "fetal matter" in the food supply?

    State Senator Ralph Shortey, I didn't know that the sperm you leave behind after you finish schtupping your farm animals counted at "fetal matter."

    But, I guess you'd know better.

    Did your favorite cow give birth to a human-cow hybrid?

    And I thought you were happy using your human-goat hybrid as a Nanny for the all-human children you had with your wife?
    Well, in all fairness, if they're your children, they'd only be half human anyway.

  • G.Kerby on January 27, 2012 10:30 AM:

    I'm more worried about fecal matter in their brains.

  • Peter C on January 27, 2012 10:34 AM:

    Sorry, Ed, but it is no longer credible to say that Michelle Bachman and Ron Paul are isolated and fringe. They are not. They are mainstream Republicans, embraced by the party, included in their presidential debates, coddled by their propaganda network and supported by a significant portion of Republicans. The Republican Party is now made up of wackos and the 1% and the people they can scare into sitting with them. But it is the wackos and the 1% who are driving the bus, not the scared passengers (who are doubtless more sensible).

  • berttheclock on January 27, 2012 10:44 AM:

    @AtlasMugged, however, Chenoweth of the "Why protect salmon when I can buy cans of them off the shelves at Albertsons" fame, at least, was one of the few in the Class of '94 in the PNW who stuck to her pledge of only serving within her term limit. The fellow who defeated Tom Foley and pledged to only serve out his term refused as did "Doc" Hastings who claimed his skills learned after going to DC were needed to represent his district onward.

    But, it is interesting that Rep Stacy Campfield is one of the few Republican legislators in Tennessee who is not a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC which is corrupting state legislatures from coast to coast. Can't find any connection with Ralph Shortey and ALEC.

  • anandine on January 27, 2012 11:07 AM:

    How about the judge in San Luis Arizona who found that a candidate didn't speak English well enough to run for city council? English is apparently the official language of San Luis. I wonder where in the constitution the originalists found that little tidbit.

    http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2012/01/26/judge-candidates-grasp-of-english-is-too-poor-for-her-to-run-for-office/

  • jpeckjr on January 27, 2012 11:07 AM:

    In the last paragraph, the word "distinguishing" is missing the "h". I read it four times, trying to figure out what "distinguising" was before I figured it out. Sorry to be picky, Ed, but you're smarter than me and I thought it might be a word I didn't know.

    @martin: Great idea! An unlimited supply of stories.

  • Vo Cab on January 27, 2012 11:09 AM:

    Happy to see the use of the word "solons" - however generously it is applied.

  • Perspecticus on January 27, 2012 11:17 AM:

    "Today itís Tennessee state senator Stacy Campfield, an unusually uninhibited homophobe who has made opposition to anti-bullying initiatives his main purpose in public life."

    Geezum Crow, where I grew up, a boy with a girl's name like Stacy who went on to become a legislator would likely have made anti-bullying laws his lifelong goal.

    Of course, we always know the end of the story of those "straight" people who argue so vehemently against homosexuality, don't we?

  • rrk1 on January 27, 2012 11:17 AM:

    I also welcome Ed Kilgore. I look forward to his insights and analysis of our insane political system.

    Count me as a supporter of a "This Week in Crazy" feature. State legislatures are the fertile soil from which imbeciles sprout like weeds. I have used the term "Crazy Caucus" for the unhinged in Congress, and hope to see it reduced in this round. I'm not holding my breath. The more exposure these lunatics get the better since I think there is still a reservoir of intelligence extant in the land sufficient to see them for what they are. Unfortunately, that's not enough to get rid of them. Like weeds, they're very resilient.

    Don't discontinue "This Week in God". I find it very entertaining. I realize Steve had a special place in his heart for the god types. We need to know what this paleo anti-intellectual crowd is up to as they try to drag us back to the dark ages.

  • Redshift on January 27, 2012 11:37 AM:

    It's also important to watch the legislative patterns because there's no telling which apparently insane legislation is actually a product of ALEC, and may start appearing everywhere.