By Mike Steely
How many things can one person do in a lifetime? How many encounters with history can a person encounter?
In the case of State Senator Richard Briggs—retired Army Colonel with wartime duty in the Middle East, cardiothoracic surgeon, family man, former Knox County Commissioner and now Tennessee State Senator— his life hasn’t slowed down a lot and still has not.
Although given a surprise retirement party at Tennova back in May Dr. Briggs tells the Focus, “Although ’retired‘ I am working full time at Tennova until a new surgeon gets here in June. I still work one or two days a week and every 3rd weekend.
“I’ll continue to provide full-time coverage when someone is on vacation or out of town,” he said, adding, “It’s hard to give up something you enjoy and I still get a thrill out of saving lives of folks with heart trouble.”
Briggs gained state attention when he defeated controversial State Senator Stacey Campfield in the 2014 Republican Primary with 67% of the vote. He went to victory over the Democratic candidates with a 65% plurality.
The state senator was born on Pearl Harbor Day, December 7th, in 1952. He attended the University of Kentucky. He and his wife, Stephanie, live in Farragut. Briggs is a Methodist and active in many community events and concerns such as the American Heart Association.
He made national news in 2006 when on duty in Iraq he gave emergency treatment to newsman Bob Woodruff who was injured by a roadside bomb. His Army duties as a doctor have placed him in places like South Korea, Kuwait, South Korea, Ecuador, and Afghanistan.
The Knoxville Focus asked Doctor, Colonel and Senator Briggs several questions in order to bring our readers up to date with his busy life.
- What is your greatest accomplishment in the Senate?
I don’t know if there are any great accomplishments but I am proudest of the work addressing the opiate crisis and pill mills in Tennessee and in Knox County. I have sponsored or co-sponsored several bills that have decreased the number of pain clinics from 39 in Knox County to about 17 at the last count. State-wide, nearly 2/3rds of the pill mills have shut down. The remaining pain clinics have certified pain specialist as medical directors which means less opiates and better treatment for the chronic pain patient. On July 1, 2017, the Department of Health will begin inspecting and licensing pain clinics which will help even more in attacking the crisis. The opiate crisis is more than just an addiction problem, it is costing lives and contributes to 90% of the crime according to law enforcement.
- On what issues have you had second thoughts?
Not necessarily second thoughts but how to best allocate education dollars so our citizens will have the skills for future employment. Do we invest more in improving K-12 education, more in higher university-type education, or more in specific job skills training education such as the Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology and Community Colleges? When resources are limited, how much to put where is critical for our state and future.
- Between sessions I see you have returned to your medical practice, how’s that going and does your time in the Senate conflict with your life or practice?
The time in the legislative takes a lot of time away from my practice from January to May. I leave Monday morning for Nashville and do not get back until Thursday evening. You noticed I “retired” but I am still working at Tennova Physicians Regional Medical Center and Tennova Turkey Creek Medical Center several days a week and on-call some weekends. I want to emphasize Tennova and my practice partner, Dr. Bill Walker, have been extremely understanding and supportive in allowing me the flexibility to continue to practice medicine while serving in the state legislature.
- What do you think of the idea of color coding driver licenses for non-citizens?
I do not have an opinion one way or another. I believe it is not a color code but the word, “VISA” or other wording to indicate the person is a non-citizen. It was the intention to make it easier for the observers at voting sites to identify persons ineligible to vote. We also passed a bill to have the driver’s licenses of persons under 21 to be printed vertically to make identification easier to prevent alcohol sales under-aged persons.
- Who are your friends or allies in the Senate?
We have 28 Republicans in the Senate and we all work very well together for the state of Tennessee. Senator Becky Massey and I work especially well together. Our offices and legislative assistants coordinate citizen requests and we feel no other metropolitan area in Tennessee gets better constituent services from their senators. A two for the price of one deal.
- Who are your friends on the opposite side?
We have five Democrats in the Senate and have enjoyed working with all five. I would not like to pick one over the others but Senator Jeff Yabro from Nashville and I have worked very closely on health care matters for the uninsured.
- On what committees do you serve?
Health and Welfare, State and Local Government, Transportation and Safety, Ethics
- How has the reception been in Knox County to your service?
It has been really very good. We are elected to take the time to thoroughly listen to witness testimony at committee meetings, study an issue in detail, and then vote in the best interest of the community and citizens. I want our community and citizens to know I appreciate the opportunity to represent them and will always do my best to be a good steward of their tax dollars.
I enjoyed the years on the county commission. In many ways the county commission was a much more difficult job, especially the zoning issues with neighbors and friends.
I thought we had a good commission (we still do) when I was on it and we worked hard to keep it open and honest.