Matthew Hill is a good conservative. Maybe even a great conservative. He supports the right to life. He supports the Second Amendment. He is pro-business. Nothing about Hill has ever changed in those respects. He is just as staunchly supportive of core conservative national causes as he has ever been.
So why does his Republican Primary opponent, Phil Carriger, have much stronger support than any challenger Hill has faced to date?
Hill suffers from the same degenerative condition that afflicted Congressman David Davis several years ago. He talks the talk, but when it comes to actually representing his district, he is perceived by an increasing number of constituents as failing to walk the walk.
In 2008, in The Business Journal, I wrote about Davis, “The growing perception was that the congressman had a cadre of friends and supporters beyond whom he proved either unwilling or unable to effectively represent.
“Despite maintaining an active constituent outreach schedule,” I said of Davis, “he developed a reputation for listening and nodding his head, but creating little confidence he would productively address his constituents’ needs.”
It’s the same pattern with Hill.
For instance, what did he push through the house to benefit his constituents last session?
According to Hill’s official state website, (www.capitol.tn.gov/house/members/h7.html) he sponsored 18 bills. Two of them passed:
• HB 0687 Special License Plates – As enacted, decreases the minimum order requirement for renewal of specialty license plates and plates for universities located outside Tennessee from 1,000 to 800. (Good news for Alabama fans in Tennessee!)
• HB 2223 – Civil Procedure – As enacted, permits courts and not just chancellors to reopen bidding on judicial sales; clarifies that a court clerk is empowered to take certain actions regarding the acceptance of an advance bid and the reopening of bidding at no additional fee, commission or cost, but the clerk is not to take those actions if a court order specifically prohibits the acceptance of an advance bid. (Good news for, um, court clerks?)
Of course there’s much more to representing one’s constituents than just passing laws. And if one has done a good job, one’s supporters should be counted on to show up for campaign events, at the very least.
Both candidates held public campaign kick-offs at the Jonesborough Visitors’ Center. Carriger’s was attended by around 75 supporters. Hill’s was attended by around 15. That’s not rhetoric or spin. It’s just a fact. It is, as the saying goes, what it is.
Fund-raising tells a similar story. If one buys into the line that Hill represents special interests beyond his district and Carriger represents a return to government of District 7, by District 7 and for District 7, then these figures provide ample support.
Of the 20 large contributions reported raised by the Hill campaign in the second quarter of 2014, only one came from inside District 7: a $1,500 donation from the Johnson City Professional Firefighters PAC.
So who’s funding the Hill campaign? The rest of Hill’s second quarter donors included an Atlanta-based natural gas industry PAC (sorry, coal) which gave $500, the Tennessee Education Association (the teachers’ union) in Nashville which gave $6,400 during the quarter to raise its total to $7,400, TMX PAC – a political action committee that shares a Savannah, Georgia address with TitleMax (a “bad credit is okay” title loan company) which gave $1,500, and Hygienists for Progress in Memphis, which gave $500. Nine of the 20 Hill donors have Nashville addresses.
Compare that to Carriger, who had one donor from Nashville among 28 who gave $150 or more. The only other large donors from outside Washington County who gave to Carriger were from Blountville, Elizabethton, Greeneville and Piney Flats. That’s hardly Atlanta and Savannah.
Also, Matthew Hill received six in-kind contributions totaling $9,995 from Overmountain PAC. The treasurer listed for that PAC is…Matthew Hill. Perhaps Hill has a slew of local supporters working through that organization. Unfortunately, we don’t know, because Overmountain failed to file a mandatory listing of its contributors and expenditures that was due July 10. The Tennessee Department of State says it sent a certified letter July 16 demanding that the PAC come into compliance, but as of this writing, Overmountain has not done so.
Again, these are facts, not spin. They are what they are.
Carriger appears to understand that his opportunity is based on his ability to continue showing his desire to represent voters in the district. His press releases include pictures of him with groups of local supporters.
Until Thursday, Hill, on the other hand, seemed tone-deaf to the problem. His biggest endorsement up until then had been Rick Santorum. Having one’s picture taken with Santorum does a great job of communicating, “I’m a real conservative!” But no one’s ever said Hill isn’t a real conservative. They’ve just said he’s not an effective representative for Northeast Tennesseans.
Thursday morning Hill’s campaign issued a press release announcing former Johnson City Mayor Vance Cheek’s endorsement of Hill. Cheek hasn’t held local office for 13 years, but he is a local name with political history.
Hill knows he can’t run on a record of sponsoring special license plates and civil procedures, so he’s tried to paint Carriger as a liberal based on a handful of votes Carriger cast while mayor of Johnson City – votes on issues like guns on playgrounds. That’s like trying to paint Ronald Reagan as a liberal because Reagan granted amnesty for illegal aliens. It’s just an absurd stretch, and I can’t see too many voters falling for it. As a friend of mine asked yesterday, “If Carriger is anti-gun, how come the owner of the biggest gun store in town put a ‘Vote for Carriger’ sign in his front yard?”
I checked. It’s there.
Now, I’ve been wrong about elections before. I thought backlash about negative campaigning in the county commission race would catapult Mark Ferguson to re-election in May. Shows what I know.
But still, if Matthew Hill’s strategy includes calling his opponent liberal for accepting “liberal dollars” while Hill accepts large contributions from the teachers union – if Hill’s strategy is to claim to stand up for his constituents while he runs a campaign funded by Nashville-based special interests and out-of-state PACs – if Hill’s strategy includes saying a man who holds trap and skeet shoots to benefit disabled veterans is anti-gun – I just don’t see how Hill can continue on his chosen path to becoming a career politician.