Five-term incumbent state Rep. Matthew Hill, R-7th, confirmed Thursday he is not among the roughly 500 Republicans and guests who received invitations to Friday night's shindig at Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge’s Jonesborough farm.
Tennessee’s U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, Gov. Bill Haslam and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey will be on hand at “Farm, Fiddle and Friends,” a conservative meet-and-greet and cookout at Eldridge’s roomy 9,000-square-foot barn.
“I wasn’t invited,” Hill said. “My opponent is going to attend the invitation-only event.”
Hill is referring to former Johnson City Commissioner Phil Carriger, a Republican challenger for the 7th House District seat who is going toe-to-toe with his chief rival as the Aug. 7 state primary approaches. Carriger said he has been invited. Todd Franklin also is in the race in which the winner literally takes all, since there is no opposition from another party. He said Thursday he had not been invited.
Johnson City Vice Mayor Clayton Stout confirmed Thursday he had received an invitation. Clayton is challenging state Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-6th, for that House seat. Van Huss did not return phone calls made to his personal number and to Citizens to Elect Micah Van Huss.
Hill expressed disappointment about being overlooked, not only by the state’s prime Republican movers, but also by a contingent of Washington County Republicans, including Eldridge and Kelly Wolfe, Jonesborough mayor and Tennessee Republican Party Executive Committee member. Wolfe said this week he drew up the list of invitees for Eldridge.
“On July 12, we had Washington County Community Day at the Telford Diner,” Hill said. “It was open to the public, and we had about 500 people there. There’s a big contrast in these two events.”
Both Eldridge and Wolfe said the event offers an opportunity for people to show support for the senator and governor. Wolfe dubbed the hamburger and hot dog social “a time for fellowship with those in the Republican Party.”
Meanwhile, the political advertisements keep coming, and by far the greatest amount of friction is taking place between Hill and Carriger.
Hill, who has gone after Carriger’s City Commission voting record, also claimed — in the name of Friends of Matthew Hill — the website philcarriger.com in December. Log on and you’ll find a single anti-Carriger pronouncement: “Telling the truth about Phil Carriger’s record because he won’t.”
The ad contains three prominent bullet points that spell out Hill’s talking points since the start of the campaign. First, that Carriger voted dozens of times for forced annexation. Carriger has said he has voted for two annexations, because they were commercial in nature. Hill claims Carriger forced people out of their homes and doubled their taxes.
In February, Washington County Commissioner Roger Nave, who lost his bid for re-election in May, said Gray residents felt “they have been betrayed” by opposition to fast-moving state legislation that would let people decide for themselves whether they want to be annexed into municipalities. Nave singled Eldridge out.
The bill championed by Van Huss and Hill eventually ended annexation by ordinance, excludes agricultural land and requires a referendum and a vote by those involved in a possible annexation.
The following is a quote from Eldridge published in the Johnson City Press soon after the House bill cleared a subcommittee: “I do support referendums, and I feel that unless agricultural use changes, that land should never be annexed. The Legislature should not rush into a one-size-fits all solution.”
Eldridge has consistently expressed the above point of view, and he has never told the Press specifically that he opposed the bill.
The bill developed in great part from an ongoing adversarial relationship between Johnson City and Washington County borne from annexations in Gray, and Van Huss is strongly supported by many rural landowners in this part of the county.
In fact, Van Huss sent a communique to Washington County commissioners saying Eldridge had come to his office, looked him in the eye and told him he opposed the bill — an action Eldridge continues to flatly deny.
Meanwhile, second among Hill’s points in the ad at philcarriger.com points to Carriger has having “voted to ban guns in parts of Johnson City.” This is an amended version of a Hill billboard ad that states Carriger banned guns in Johnson City. Carriger did vote to keep guns out of city parks, a law that already was on the books when he was a commissioner.
Finally, Hill goes after Carriger’s record of not keeping his word to senior citizens — claiming the commissioner turned his back on a proposed stand-alone center. Carriger denies this and says he actually made the motion for a stand-alone center, but was outvoted 3-2.
Carriger said he stumbled across philcarriger.com while surfing the Web.
“It doesn’t pass the sniff test,” he said about Hill using the domain name. “It never occurred to me to go out and use his name to serve my purposes. You’d think he’d have something more to say. Close friends and supporters are shocked.”
Carriger said he has not talked with Hill about his use of the site. He also said he likely won’t be speaking with his opponent unless a last-minute debate should develop.
“Matthew distorts,” Carriger said.
The website’s purpose is “to highlight the documented voting record of the four years Phil Carriger served on the City Commission. This record is meant is meant to share his record since he refuses to do so himself,” according to a statement in the ad.
“He says he’s trying to talk about the facts, but he did vote to take peoples’ land,” Hill said. “The bottom line is somebody owns matthewhill.com. They had the opportunity to purchase it. They didn’t. All he does is call me names. My point is he’s willing to attack my faith and my family on a personal level. It is wrong to use Scripture as a tool to promote propaganda.”
Carriger recently ran an ad in the Press directed squarely at Hill from Exodus 20:16: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”
Hill also criticized his opponent for not wanting to participate in a recent Tri-Cities Tea Party/912 Project Group debate. The group’s Facebook page said all 6th and 7th House District candidates, as well as 1st Judicial District attorney general candidates were invited to attend a July 15 forum. Only the attorney general candidates debated.
Prior to that date, both Hill and Franklin said they likely would sit in on the event.
“We were supposed to have a debate,” Hill said Thursday, roughly 10 days after the fact. “I was there, Mr. Franklin was there. (Carriger) wasn’t.”
Carriger told the Press he was aware the group was trying to organize a debate.
“I called Kay White (the group’s co-founder), and she told me it was an event (House candidates) that was not going to be,” Carriger said Thursday. “She said they were not going to be able to pull that together.”
Franklin said days ahead of the event that he had not received an invitation. Stout said likewise. Van Huss did not return calls, so his knowledge and his intent was unknown.
Carriger, Franklin and Stout agreed to attend a public meeting at the Jonesborough Visitors Center to discuss the issues at a Johnson City Press Community Editorial Board meeting. Hill’s response came after the event was canceled, and Van Huss did not reply. Carriger, Franklin and Stout responded to questions emailed by the Press to all 6th and 7th district candidates regarding state and local issues. Neither Hill nor Van Huss responded.
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