Following the unofficial designation of Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 presidential election, Tennessee state Rep. Karen Camper of Memphis heartily joined in on a national Zoom call with Black Women United to celebrate his and vice president-elect Kamala Harris’s historic win.
As House Minority Leader for Tennessee’s outgunned Democrats since 2018, Camper issued a news release when Biden’s victory was announced as official. It made no mention of her own re-election to an eighth term as District 87’s voice in the legislature.
Instead, she gave a brief history saluting Harris’s shining achievement as the perfect capstone to notate 2020 as the 100th anniversary of the Women’s Suffrage Movement.
It also did not re-state her connection to the ticket. Coming almost exactly a month after her being listed as number 94 among the nation’s 100 most influential African-American Leaders by African Leadership magazine (ALM), it was announced that she was an 11th-hour addition to the African-American Leadership Financial Council, a national fundraising committee culled to shore up the Biden/Harris campaign.
Also, as president of the National Organization of Black Elected Legislative Women (NOBEL Women), she shared her thoughts on the political reality of what a Democratic White House could mean for Tennessee and Shelby County following Trump’s acidic term in office.
TSD: Was campaigning for the Biden team a successful effort?
Rep. Camper: It was successful. Because I believed so heavily in the Biden team and his run for the presidency, I thought it was important for them to have a presence here in Tennessee. So, I worked hard to open a headquarters in his name; make sure we got the messaging out about his campaign, got signs out and distributed whatever paraphernalia we could.
“By putting the word out on Biden, Harris, and to some degree, Marquita Bradshaw (the unsuccessful Democratic candidate for Lamar Alexander’s U.S. Senate seat), to make sure people would know that there were people running that were inclusive in their message, we felt we did good with that.
“I also worked very hard to raise money to be included on the African-American Leadership Finance Council. That group will continue to meet throughout the next four years, probably quarterly, to talk about inclusion and for this group that worked so hard and got out and raised money to have a presence in that administration on issues. So, I’m proud to be a part of that.”
TSD: What in real-world terms can his victory mean for the Democratic minority in the red state of Tennessee?
Rep. Camper: One thing about this candidate that is proven: Even with (Senate Majority Leader Mitch) McConnell (R-Kentucky), (U.S. Sen.) Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and those type of people he can still get things done.
Frankly, the supermajority here was just echoing some of the Trump rhetoric to be honest. Well, this president (Joe Biden) is pushing a message of inclusion, working together, bipartisanship. So, we’re hoping that that message will be resonating to the state houses to get things done for people.
TSD: What about younger Republicans in the state? Have you seen any indication that they may be less vulnerable to Trumpism?
Rep. Camper: I do. I’m hopeful. I know that a lot of young people mirror what they see in their homes and the world around them. But the more they become conscious being exposed on the job and in their daily life they begin to see things differently and shape their own views. I’m very hopeful.”
TSD: With the overwhelming Republican voice in the electorate and the state capital, what real power does the Democratic Party have in Tennessee, publicly and in the legislature?
Rep. Camper: One of the things that people believe is that because the Republican Party has the majority, the minority doesn’t have a role to play, but that’s not true. We’re still able to get bills passed.
This year was an anomaly because of the pandemic but we still got things done. When you have the right leadership in place to work across the aisles to say ‘Look, I understand your point of view on this particular issue, but here is another group of people that pay taxes in this state that want to have their vision, their voices recognized.’…
TSD: Retouching on senatorial candidate Bradshaw, I’ve heard many people comment, and not just the so-called “woke” community, say she is the breath of fresh air this county has long needed, and her commercial was utterly brilliant, your thoughts?
The commercial was brilliant, yes. I didn’t see it when it first came out, but it was playing in East and Middle Tennessee, and someone that saw it sent it to me. They said, ‘Hey I saw the Bradshaw commercial and loved it.’
As a state’s senator you have to have a platform, vision and priorities that reflect a broader perspective and I think that her platform of environment, education and economics resonated with a lot of people, particularly on the environmental level.
In an urban area, you hear about environmental concerns and racial justice all of the time, which she and her family fought for. But think about all of the farmers across the state that are concerned about environmental justice because of their crops.
She woke a lot of people up in that area because they had never seen a candidate that made environment their number one issue.”
Rep. Camper: I think she did a lot as a young leader here in Shelby County. On the local level, here is a young black woman, a single parent who saw a void of opportunity and didn’t mind taking the risk to fight for what she believed in.
It was a monumental task, but she was not afraid to put herself out there, so there’s a lot of young girls that are saying because she did it, they can do it.
TSD: On the flip side, your thoughts on the District 90 race that saw Torrey Harris unseat the incumbent John Deberry? There were some ugly moments, including a loudly criticized yard sign with his (DeBerry’s) photo next to Trump’s, surprising?
Rep. Camper: What we as Democrats have traditionally told our voters is vote Democrat. Straight Democrat … So Democratic voters that adhered to a message they have been accustomed to hear voted Democrat.
So that “D” behind Harris’ name meant something …”