State House race could be a costly contest

Johnson City Press • Dec 9, 2013 at 9:02 AM

The contest between state Rep. Matthew “Boss” Hill, R-Jonesborough, and former Johnson City Commissioner Phil Carriger could become the most expensive Republican Primary for a seat in the state House of Representatives ever waged in this area. But just how much money will be spent on the GOP race for the 7th District seat is anybody’s guess. Some insiders estimate campaign spending for both candidates could total more than $50,000. Surprisingly, I’ve heard it might be even more. Regardless, voters should keep in mind that this is all for a job that pays $20,203 annually (along with a $173 per diem and an office stipend of $1,000 a month).I heard Carriger made a careful analysis of his fundraising potential before deciding to challenge Hill. I’ve also been told he has rounded up a number of large commitments that should make his first state campaign finance report look impressive. That’s wise because the incumbent has more than $40,000 (according to his last report to the state) in campaign cash on hand. And Boss Hill will likely raise even more before he and other members of the General Assembly return to work next month. (State legislators are prohibited under law from raising campaign funds while they are in session.)As chairman of the House Local Government Committee, Hill should enjoy an institutional advantage in fundraising. Then again, Hill is not your typical committee chairman. Boss Hill has won many of his primary and general elections for the General Assembly by spending less than $10,000. In most cases, far less. Carriger might well be the most formidable challenger Hill has faced in the GOP primary. His supporters say the retired banker feels right at home rubbing elbows with folks who give $5 or $10, as well as those who write their checks with more zeros.Some Carriger supporters also believe the tea party donations that Hill and his colleagues have seen coming their way from other parts of the state might not make it to Northeast Tennessee next year. Call me skeptical, but if it looks like the five-term incumbent is losing to the challenger, you can bet your last dollar there will be tea party donors coming to Hill’s aid. While The Boss has skated to re-election during most of his nine-year career in Nashville, Hill’s opponents say his mediocre win over Nancy Fischman (an underfunded and untested Democrat) in 2012 showed the incumbent to be vulnerable.For the record, Hill bested Fischman (who is again running for the seat next year) in that race by a margin of 65.6 percent, which to me seems to be a solid win. Even so, Boss Hill failed to trounce his Democratic opponent the way state Rep. Micah Van Huss did his challenger to win the 6th House District with 72 percent of the vote. Even that pales to U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, who won re-election in 2012 with more than 80 percent of the vote.Of course, all those returns were from the general election, where Republicans have a distinct advantage in Northeast Tennessee.Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at rhouk@johnsoncitypress.com.

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