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Carriger to challenge Hill for 7th District seat

March 28th, 2014 10:04 am by Gary B. Gray

Carriger to challenge Hill for 7th District seat

Former Johnson City commissioner and Vice Mayor Phil Carriger officially announced his candidacy Thursday. He will try to unseat incumbent state Rep. Matthew Hill for the 7th House District seat. (Ron Campbell/Johnson City Press)

Local financial aficionado and former Johnson City Vice Mayor Phil Carriger says there are strong political and philosophical differences between himself and his Aug. 7 Republican state primary opponent, state Rep. Matthew Hill, R-7th.

Carriger said repeatedly while speaking in Jonesborough on Thursday that career politicians are not the ones giving the best advice.

“Career politicians don’t know how to manage a dollar or grow a job, and for too many, their only priority is to keep theirs,” he said while intermittently thumping the end of his right index finger on the lectern. “My opponent has been in office — for a decade. Co-signing a bunch of resolutions is one thing. Actual accomplishments are another.

“I believe people can make a difference in public service without becoming career politicians. My message is this: I have the right experience to be an effective conservative and work well with others. Send a proven job creator to Nashville. That’s who I am, that’s what I’ve done. I know what it’s like to put your own money into a business and sweat bullets.”

Carriger also explained why he felt he was the better choice to work with fellow Republicans.

“My platform follows from my political philosophy. Simply put, I’m a committed constitutional conservative. I believe in ‘We the People.’ Let the people decide. And because the best decisions are made around the family dinner table, the best government is less government. Keep government limited and local.”

Hill, a five-term House member, was heavily criticized last year by proponents of a bill to allow wine in grocery stores. He voted for an earlier version of the legislation in a subcommittee, only to cast the key vote against the measure when it reached the House Local Government Committee, which he chairs. The bill eventually passed this year.

“I still can’t figure out that wine bill, and how he was chairman of that committee yet failed to allow himself to ask any questions,” Carriger said.

The challenger also had a few words to say about pending legislation supported by Hill that will allow registered voters to decide at referendums whether they want to be annexed by municipalities.

“I have no problem with voters deciding,” Carriger said. “The problem I have is if you’re a renter, you will be the one voting and deciding on what happens to a person’s property — property that may be owned by someone not living in the area.”

In September, Carriger said he was approached by a number of people about running for the spot and said he was in the process of “doing the groundwork” before making an official decision. He now has made the most ambitious political commitment in his career thus far.

A few of his roughly 120 supporters inside the Jonesborough Visitors Center included Former Johnson City Mayor Jane Myron, City and Washington County Commissioner David Tomita, County Commissioner Pat Wolfe, Jonesborough Mayor Kelly Wolfe and Johnson City Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin.

“I’ve had the opportunity to work with Phil for several years,” Van Brocklin said. “We’re not always in agreement on things, but I’ve always respected his financial acumen. 

He’s also made me look at economic development issues a lot closer, and in different ways, than I might have in the past.”

Carriger was many times at the crux of critical decisions during his single four-year term as commissioner and vice mayor. He was viewed as the city’s “go-to guy” when talk turned to capital spending priorities, the economy and state mandates — subjects that require a broad understanding of how the economy works.

He also won favor from local school officials when, during a frustrated gathering at a workshop over state mandates, he let out a controlled but booming statement: “The legislators keep pushing a mounting number of problems down to the local level. 

When’s the last time the city has brought them in to see the reality of the situation?”
Carriger is a Bank of Tennessee board of directors member who also provides financial consulting. He was elected a city commissioner in 2009. He serves on various nonprofit boards and has amassed 36 years of banking experience in Knoxville, New Orleans and Johnson City.

He grew up on Meredith Street with his three older brothers, helping his mother and father work on the family farm. He also started Peoples Bank in 1995. Last year, he stepped down as a member of the Johnson City Power Board’s board of directors after wrapping up his second four-year term.

So what will he do if voters decide to send him to Nashville?

“My goal is to attract even more high-quality jobs to Washington County,” he said. “I’ve spent my whole life building businesses and growing jobs. I’ll take that same solution-oriented common sense to Nashville. I’ll use my real-world experience outside of politics to be an effective conservative. In a nutshell I believe in local control and economic opportunity. I believe in empowering individuals and families, not the government.

“I’ll oppose increasing state taxes. And with respect to the state income tax, the people have spoken. This issue is dead. I still believe in the Constitution. I still believe in the 10th Amendment. It’s time for Tennessee to do more to protect Tennesseans from unconstitutional federal overreach. The federal government has absolutely no business influencing state or local educational matters.”

Hill and Carriger had been the lone Republican prospects for sometime. However, Jonesborough resident Todd Franklin, an academic adviser at East Tennessee State University, picked up his nominating papers Wednesday.

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