By Sam Stockard
Bipartisanship forms the backbone of state Rep. Karen Camper’s legislative philosophy.
The Memphis Democrat from Whitehaven recently received the honor as one of the 2016 Elected Women of Excellence, an award established by the National Foundation for Women Legislators to recognize hard work and legislative efforts.
But being recognized by other women lawmakers for her efforts was just part of what made it special.
“It was phenomenal because this particular group is probably, out of the various legislative organizations, the one that’s the most bipartisan, in my opinion, of representation in terms of women that participate,” Camper says.
For Camper, 58, being well-rounded is simply part of life.
Retired from the U.S. Army as a chief warrant officer, she owns Key II Entertainment and serves as executive director of a nonprofit, The Humble Hearts Foundation. She entered the Legislature after getting involved in neighborhood issues and making a run for the Memphis City Council.
Camper also chairs the Shelby County Legislative Delegation, a position requiring a strong personality and the ability to make people from varying backgrounds work toward the same goal.
“She’s a good leader,” says fellow Memphis Democratic Rep. Antonio Parkinson. “I’ve kind of watched her evolution in the time I’ve been there as a legislator, and she’s doing good things.”
With Democrats making up only 25 of the 99-member House as the 110th General Assembly prepares to convene, working with Republicans is “a given in the culture we’re in,” Parkinson points out.
“It’s very important for a legislator to find areas where there’s common ground and to file legislation that’s suitable for the entire state, because at the end of the day what we do affects the lives of citizens across the state of Tennessee, not just in our particular districts,” Parkinson says.
Camper holds a similar outlook as she and the Legislature’s Black Caucus prepare to make a push in 2017 on criminal justice reform, minority business and education initiatives.
“For me, (bipartisanship) has always been important, keenly important, particularly on the committees I’ve served on here,” she says.
As a former member of the Judiciary Committee, Camper saw bipartisan support as crucial for moving legislation and working with constituents.
“Whatever the issue is, there’s somebody that’s impacted by it, so when you have people coming together to resolve problems for people it just means a lot,” she adds.
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