Zach Wamp’s temper on full display on campaign trail

Sunday, June 27, 2010 at 11:45pm

It started off as a pretty standard day in the world of gubernatorial campaigns.

There were the three major Republican candidates for governor — U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam — and members of their campaign staffs, glad-handing at the May 22 Hamilton County Lincoln Day Dinner, a party fundraiser held in Chattanooga.

Weston Wamp, son of the gubernatorial candidate, was there working for his father. And he was quite upset, according to handwritten accounts gathered that day by the Haslam campaign and later provided to The City Paper, about a copy of his father’s mug shot that had run in The Tennessean. The mug shot was from 1983, when Zach Wamp was arrested on misdemeanor charges for disorderly conduct.

Weston Wamp approached Haslam staffer Jonathan Bryant while Bryant was passing out campaign materials, issuing an accusation about the mug shot. According to the account Bryant later shared, Weston Wamp grabbed his right arm and yelled, “You didn’t have anything to do with this, did you?”

“Don’t hit me again,” Bryant said, according to the account. “I don’t know anything about that.”

“I didn’t hit you,” Wamp allegedly replied. “If I hit you, I’d bust your teeth in.”

The two continued to argue until Zach Wamp noticed the fracas. He approached and, according to Bryant’s and other accounts, proceeded to join in, calling the man and other Haslam supporters “trash.”

Obviously the account of one campaign over another in a situation such as this is suspect, so The City Paper sought to verify the incident with other sources. A private message sent by Weston Wamp via Facebook a few days after the fundraiser — and provided to The City Paper — seemed to offer some clarity.

Weston Wamp wrote to Bryant the following:

Apologize for accusing you on Saturday night. Feel like we were all kind of set up on that one. It was meant to make our people mad and make it look like you guys did it. Hope you understand why, in the heat of the moment, it seemed like your people.

My dad would have never said a word, he just saw me and was defending his son …

Intimidation tactics and threats seem to be par for the course on the Wamp campaign. While multiple sources within the major gubernatorial campaigns —as well as some in the business community — have relayed examples to The City Paper, they have so far been reluctant to go on the record for fear of retribution and/or loss of employment.

Quick to rise

When U.S. Rep. John Duncan, R-Knoxville, announced that he was endorsing Haslam for governor, he got a taste of the Wamp temper, according to multiple sources. Wamp personally telephoned Duncan and verbally accosted him about his support for Haslam and not him.

Asked about the incident, Patrick Newton, Duncan’s spokesman, said, “Rep. Wamp was obviously not happy when Rep. Duncan endorsed Mayor Haslam for governor, but they have moved beyond the endorsement and continue to have a good working relationship in the House of Representatives. Rep. Duncan is a lifelong friend of the Haslams, and he knew them long before he met Rep. Wamp.”

Prominent supporters of former GOP gubernatorial candidate and current Shelby County District Attorney Bill Gibbons have told The City Paper that when they decided to endorse candidates other than Wamp and informed him of their decision, they were treated to insults and a tirade of epic proportion.

Ramsey himself has said that when he threw his hat in the ring, he too got a phone call from a “very disappointed” Wamp. The congressman was “halfway aggravated” over his decision, Ramsey said.

“He said, ‘I can’t believe you’re doing this.’ It almost aggravated me. I said, ‘Let me make sure I understand this, Zach. I’ve been toiling in the state legislature for 17 years and took us [from] three seats down to five seats up [from Senate minority to majority] … and you’re going to be upset?’ ”

One of the more widely circulated recent exchanges occurred between Wamp and Ramsey supporter Joe Kirkpatrick, himself a former candidate. Kirkpatrick sent an email to friends and then blogged that Wamp was in a “temporary state of rage” and had accused Kirkpatrick of disseminating false claims about his record in Congress. Wamp also claimed Kirkpatrick was paving the way for a Haslam victory by supporting Ramsey, adding that the lieutenant governor is doomed to a third-place finish in the primary.

The list goes on.

In April, at Columbia’s annual Mule Day Festival, Wamp got into a heated argument with Mule Day Parade organizer D.C. Neeley. The argument was actually a spillover from the previous year’s parade, when Wamp and his campaign allegedly did not follow safety rules. Wamp had gotten a little hot under the collar, according to Neeley, and said “I make my own rules!” and “You can’t tell me what to do!”

This time around, Wamp simply called Neeley a “Democrat.” Representatives from every rival campaign, as well as independent sources, confirmed that the argument took place — and in front of a large crowd.

Conservative talk radio personality Phil Valentine shared a Wamp run-in on his show. According to Valentine, Wamp refused to shake his hand at the end of a candidate forum that he had moderated.

Then, at a Tax Day tea party rally, Wamp confronted Valentine. On his show, Valentine relayed the following:

“I said, ‘Hey Zach, how ya doing?’ And he said, ‘I just wanted to come over here. I know that you’re the most influential man on the radio in Tennessee, but I wanted to come over here and look you in the eye and tell you to your face that I will be your next governor of Tennessee.’ And I said, ‘Great.’ Man, he’s intense, isn’t he? And then he walked off. And I’m going, ‘OK fine, but it doesn’t change the fact that you voted for the bailout, Zach.’ ”

Just a couple weeks ago, Jim Rogers, CEO of Eastman Chemical, alluded to Wamp’s strange intensity after the congressman spoke to some Eastman employees. “I’m guessing he’s never had a cup of decaf in his life,” Rogers said.

Finally, there are the brash public statements that suggest some level of emotional instability. At a tea party candidate debate earlier this year, Wamp bragged that he slept with a gun next to his head, later describing himself as a “no exceptions, no excuses kind of guy.” He went on to tell the crowd not to “elect some sissy wannabe as your governor.”

15 Comments on this post:

By: idgaf on 6/28/10 at 1:21

Sounds like a real wack job.

One thing that sticks in my head is on background they described him as a carreer congressmen. Perhaps he has been up there to long and its time to retire him.

By: house_of_pain on 6/28/10 at 4:39

Agreed, id. He seems to have the "rock star" mentality.
Maybe he's been hanging around John Rich too long.

By: GuardianDevil01 on 6/28/10 at 5:02

A man who cannot govern his own temper should not be trusted to govern the state of Tennessee.

By: HokeyPokey on 6/28/10 at 6:29

Repeat after the Aflac duck:


By: govskeptic on 6/28/10 at 7:08

There's probably a lot of people who don't wish to shake hands
with Mr. Valentine! Just saying this portion doesn't add much
to the story.

By: pswindle on 6/28/10 at 8:20

Well, Well, Well. This is one sad campaign. Surely, Tennessee deserves better than this. Go Mike!!!!!!!!!!!

By: Brandable on 6/28/10 at 8:24

Zach Wamp isn't a mad man. He fussed at Ron Ramsey? He called a democrat a "democrat"? He complains to John Duncan and you call it an "incident"? Nothing you wrote about is odd, inappropriate or more importantly, NEWS.

By: global_citizen on 6/28/10 at 8:57

Of the one Democrat option and three Republican options, I can't see myself voting for any of them. I wish we had better options.

Having said that, this article seems a little biased and vindictive. Is this a newspaper or a tabloid? I have no intention of voting for Zach Wamp, but these authors clearly have a vendetta against the man. Many journalists do have these kinds of biases but they have enough professionalism to not vent their spleen for the record.

By: brrrrk on 6/28/10 at 9:22

I'm just wondering when Representative Wamp is going to disclose who subsidized his rent while living at C Street. While this doesn't sound like a big deal, my figures (based on the number of years he stayed there, the amount of "rent" he paid, and the rent for similar accommodations in that area) show that he was subsidized to the tune of about $70,000. I don't know about the rest of you, but that ain't chicken feed in my book. Besides the rent issue, it would be nice to know if Wamp is in the pocket of "The Family" (the same group that likely subsidized his rent); a group who overtly believes that their faith in God puts them above the pedestrian laws that you and I have to follow.

By: AmyLiorate on 6/28/10 at 9:23

Whether he is a Republican or Democrat, he has been in Washington 15 years for an office that only lasts two years.

It's only supposed to be two years so that we keep our representatives close to our values and not those of DC. Zach Wamp should get a real job and prove he is not a career politician.

By: Music City Hank on 6/28/10 at 9:24

Wamp was sued in Chattanooga for not paying bills back in his cocaine days. When I checked into it for a client that alleged that Zack had cheated him in a real estate deal I got a very angry call from his campaign manager who had been tipped off by someone at the courthouse that I was checking the public records. My client sued the Wamp family corporation (it was a condo development and Zack was the sales agent) over the deal and settled. Zack had informed him that he would refuse to testify in the case if it went to trial.
Marilyn Loyd was reelected that year, but when she didn't run the next term Zach was elected to Congress promising that he would only served 6 terms. Not surprisingly he later broke that promise.

By: laurenjeter on 6/29/10 at 10:24

Seriously? This is tabloid material.

By: TennTrue on 6/30/10 at 1:12

Wow!!!! What a great example of shoddy journalism. What J-School did you guys go to? How many bits of heresay and unsubstantiated comments with no one on record did you include in this article? Too many to make it worth reading, that's for sure. I guess the Haslam family must be subsidizing your paper too.

By: ConservativeVoter on 7/1/10 at 9:53

To Amy, the term for a Congressman is 2 years. If you like the job s/he is doing, you re-elect them. Zach was re-elected by landslides, so I guess most of the 3rd district was happy with him.

This "article" (using the term loosely) is a joke. This is tabloid JUNK!

The authors said "....they have so far been reluctant to go on the record for fear of retribution and/or loss of employment." Or maybe because people are lying?!?

I saw Ron Ramsey yelling at a volunteer or paid staffer the other day at an event. Is that news too?

By: MelissaMB on 7/17/10 at 10:03

My goodness, as a former journalist, I agree that this definitely is tabloid reporting at its worst. I've seen all 3 Republican gubernatorial candidates in action and seen passion expressed by 2, both Zach Wamp and Ron Ramsey. It kinda concerns me that Bill Haslam isn't as passionate about this race. Maybe he is confident all that big spending will buy the race without him having to put forth as much effort...? Anyway, I'd like to add that I know Zach Wamp and, yes, he is a passionate person. I don't have an issue with that because he works long and hard for his constitutents and could easily have been re-elected to Congress because overall we like what's he done for us. He wants to share his insight and expericence from that tenure, as well as the common-sense counsel received from across the state, to help lead a stronger Tennessee into the next decade. I truly don't think any other candidate could do as much in as short as time as will Zach Wamp as our next governor. Thank you! Please vote early and Back Zach.