Todd Gardenhire, a Republican state senator in Tennessee, has come under scrutiny this week for suggesting during a TV interview that “inner city” obesity is caused, in part, by “fried chicken.”
Gardenhire, who’s previously made headlines for his inflammatory rhetoric, spoke to local channel WTVC-TV via video conference on Thursday about the need for healthier food options in his district.
“The obesity rate in the inner city is bigger than anywhere else,” said Gardenhire, who represents most of Hamilton and Bradley Counties, including the city of Chattanooga. “Because ... they go to a 7-Eleven or a convenience store and there’s fried chicken so they get them fried chicken on the way home and eat dinner on that. That’s the worst thing you can eat. I mean it’s good, I love fried chicken, but that’s the worst thing you can do.”
CONTROVERSIAL COMMENTS: While talking about adding grocery stores to #CHA's food deserts, TN State Sen. Todd Gardenhire told @JoshRoe people in the inner city are obese because they keep eating fried chicken.
FULL INTERVIEW: https://t.co/telUN3GkKI pic.twitter.com/WLU4qnogi0
— WTVC NewsChannel 9 (@newschannelnine) October 16, 2020
Gardenhire, who is white, is running for reelection, and is facing Democrat Glenn Scruggs, Chattanooga’s assistant police chief.
Scruggs, who is Black, blasted Gardenhire’s comments, saying in a Friday statement that “contrary to Gardenhire’s statements, health concerns are not limited to urban areas. These issues affect all Tennesseans, rural or urban, regardless of race.”
Yesterday an interview with my opponent, Todd Gardenhire, was released. Throughout the video, Gardenhire made many unsubstantiated claims and reinforced divisive rhetoric. Please see my response below. pic.twitter.com/Gjr93NYSXQ
— Glenn Scruggs (@GlennforSenate) October 16, 2020
Fred Fletcher, Chattanooga’s former chief of police who has endorsed Scruggs, also skewered Gardenhire for his remarks, calling them “bigoted” and “inflammatory.”
Gardenhire is no stranger to controversy. In 2015, he was criticized for calling an advocate for Medicaid expansion an “asshole” after the activist challenged the lawmaker on his vote to deny 280,000 state residents access to health care.
A few days later, Gardenhire made headlines again when he told state legislators that it was harder for men to get vasectomies than for women to get abortions.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.