It was a dramatic first half of the 108th General Assembly for state Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesbor-ough. It began with state House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, splitting the State and Local Government Committee into two committees and naming Boss Hill the chairman of the latter.
The session ended with Hill having difficulty getting motions on his bills and with a $500,000 appropriation for the renovation of the Jackson Theater in Jonesborough plucked from Gov. Bill Haslam’s budget.
It just goes to show it’s not easy being the boss.
Hill has been the local story on Capitol Hill this year. The former backbencher made headlines across the state in early March when he cast the vote in his committee to kill the wine in grocery stores bill for the session.
It was sure to be a close vote anyway, as it was in subcommittee, where Harwell exercised her right as speaker to give the bill the “aye” it needed to move on. She was expecting to have to do the same in the full committee, but that was before Hill surprised everyone and voted with those seeking to scuttle the wine bill.
The Boss later said he was unhappy to see proponents try to ram the legislation through his committee without at least first hearing the amendments.
A more seasoned committee chairman would have called for a 10-minute recess to confer with the bill’s sponsor and Speaker Harwell, but not Hill. Instead, he allowed his concern for parliamentary fair play to get the best of him.
It wasn’t long before talk began circulating here and in Nashville suggesting that with that vote, Hill had become a very unpopular guy among his colleagues. A few weeks ago, it was said a number of House members were insisting the governor’s appropriation for the Jackson Theater be axed from the budget.
Many speculated it was in retaliation for the wine in grocery stores vote. Others said lawmakers didn’t think it was fair for the governor to single out a restoration project in one legislative district, while turning down equally worthy requests in others.
I suspect the reason for the removal of the Jackson Theater money from the budget was a mix of both.
Boss Hill told the Jonesborough Herald & Tribune last week he saw the move as a “policy difference” rather than “political retribution.” Even so, many local officials say the incident demonstrates that Hill has not yet eased gracefully into his new role as statesman/power broker.
In an interview with Tennessee Town & City (the official publication of the Tennessee Municipal League) earlier this month, Hill described his relationship with city officials in his district as “... good, and I think it’s getting better.” The Jackson Theater debacle was certainly a setback for Hill in that regard, but he has a chance to change that as a new member of the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations.
TACIR deals with a number of issues near and dear to the hearts of local municipal leaders, with annexation being one of the most talked about. How Hill handles the annexation question might determine how long he continues to be a boss on the hill.
Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.