I’ve said it here before, but it bears repeating: It’s not easy being the boss. Lord knows state Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, can attest to that. The pressure can be unbearable. Riding the fence on a “wine in grocery stores” bill that you helped to scuttle in your own committee can take a lot out of you.
So how does Boss Hill relax? By stepping out with his political posse — state Reps. Timothy Hill, R-Blountville, and Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough. You rarely see the Boss without one or both of his buddies in tow.
That’s a good thing. The Three Amigos are going to need that support system if state elections get as heated as some predict they will next year. It looks as if Boss Hill and Van Huss will each face a primary challenge in August. And there’s a good chance Hill’s little brother, Timothy, will also be kept busy in the next GOP contest. Former Johnson City Commissioner Phil Carriger is mulling over a bid to unseat Boss Hill in the 7th House District. Carriger’s supporters say the retired banker is now gauging support and formulating a message for his campaign.
I’ve been told Johnson City Commissioner Clayton Stout is doing the same in regard to a possible bid for the 6th House District seat now held by freshman Van Huss. One central theme, however, may be prevalent in both races. Actually, it’s more of question that I have heard asked whenever Boss Hill’s name comes up: What has Hill done for his district?
Some local municipal officials have suggested Hill is often more a hindrance than a help to them in Nashville. His record and that of his protégé, Van Huss, will certainly be a campaign issue. Specifically, Hill’s part in derailing the so-called wine in grocery stores bill earlier this year will be front and center.
That legislation would allow voters in cities and towns with package stores to decide for themselves if wine should be sold in their local grocery stores. Hill voted “no” on the bill in the House Local Government Committee he chairs, despite supporting the measure in a subcommittee the week before.
If you will recall back in March I noted some political observers said Hill acted in spite, with his vote representing payback for a perceived slight he believed the wine bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, showed to him and Van Huss in another committee a week before. In a “Pith in the Wind” post at NashvilleScene.com, Jeff Woods speculated Lundberg’s successful motion in the House Calendar and Rules Committee to ground a “Black Helicopter” bill sponsored by Van Huss was the real reason for Hill’s about-face.
In the Calendar and Rules Committee the week before the wine bill vote, Lundberg suggested a bill by Van Huss — a much lampooned measure to bar representatives from the United Nations from observing elections in Tennessee — needed to be examined by the House Civil Justice Committee, which Lundberg serves as chairman.
Hill was visibly upset that Lundberg would disrespect the work of his Local Government Committee, which he said had already evaluated the legality of the bill. That’s apparently when Hill got the idea that revenge is a dish best served with milk — not wine purchased from a grocery store.
It was sure to be a close vote in Hill’s committee anyway, as it was in subcommittee, where House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, 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 stunned everyone and voted with those seeking to scuttle the wine bill.
In a meandering statement issued following the wine bill debacle in his committee, the Boss said he was unhappy to see proponents try to ram the legislation through his committee without at least first hearing the amendments. Nonetheless, some of his colleagues thought Hill’s about-face on the wine bill was a slap in the face to Speaker Harwell, particularly in light of the fact she had just appointed the Boss to serve on 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 them. Perhaps it was just coincidence a few months after the wine vote that Harwell decide to replace Hill on TACIR. The Boss told Press Staff Writer Gary B. Gray the move was just temporary, and he would return to the panel once work on a controversial annexation bill is completed.
I wouldn’t hold my breath, however, on that happening. At least not until the Boss repairs his damaged relationship with Speaker Harwell.
Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.