- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 1, 2015

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - A state senator who has drawn the ire of supporters of Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal called a protester an obscene name in a video posted to YouTube.

The video captures an exchange between a protester and Sen. Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga at the legislative office complex Tuesday. A voice repeatedly asks the senator whether he would give up his state health insurance after contributing to the defeat of the measure to extend health insurance to 280,000 low-income Tennesseans.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported that the video was taken by Trae Haggard of East Ridge, who was on the Hill to demonstrate in support of Insure Tennessee.

“I was shocked he called a constituent that,” Haggard told the newspaper.

Gardenhire said he was upset because he had been followed to a restroom by the protester.

“When a guy follows you to the bathroom shouting and screaming at you, and you’re trying to do your business … He’s lucky I only called him by his first name,” Gardenhire said. “That’s all I’ve got to say.”

The posted video shows Gardenhire being confronted as he emerges from a restroom alongside Democratic Sen. Reginald Tate of Memphis.

“Senator Gardenhire, are you willing to give up your health insurance?” an activist asks.

Gardenhire’s response ends with an obscene word.

The question was an allusion to an earlier vote Gardenhire had cast that helped kill a previous version of Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal during a special session last month.

During the February debate, Gardenhire had angrily denounced a Democratic senator for suggesting that lawmakers receiving government subsidies for their insurance should be more receptive to the governor’s proposal to insure poor Tennesseans.

“I have very nice health care provided to me through my private employer,” Gardenhire said during that hearing.

Records later obtained by The Associated Press showed that Gardenhire was among six GOP senators voting against the plan who are enrolled in the state government health plan. The senator later acknowledged he was covered by the state insurance plan but insisted he doesn’t use it.

State Democratic Party Chairwoman Mary Mancini criticized Gardenhire for using the strong language against a fellow Tennessean, saying it showed that the senator “can’t handle being held accountable for his votes.”

But Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said he was amused to hear of the exchange.

“He is opinionated, somewhat brash at times,” Ramsey said. “You know what? That’s great. You never have to worry about where he’s standing, so that’s a good thing.”

Ramsey said he had also had some interaction with protesters that left him unsettled.

“They questioned how I could be a Christian and be against this bill,” Ramsey said. “And I got a little upset, too.

“I told them my religion is between me and God, and not them,” he said. “And Christ has saved me and I feel like I’m going to heaven, so don’t ever, ever question whether I’m a good Christian or not because I’m against this bill.”


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