Sunday, September 9, 2001

SUNDQUIST A BURDEN FOR THE GOP, HILLEARY SUGGESTS

But the odds still favor a Republican gubernatorial candidate, he says.

Posted By on Sun, Sep 9, 2001 at 4:00 AM

U.S. Rep. Van Hilleary (R-4th), the consensus favorite to become the Republican nominee for governor of Tennessee next year, continues to speak of the administration of the man he wants to succeed, Governor Don Sundquist, as a handicap to GOP efforts to hold on to the statehouse. In an interview two weeks ago when Hilleary was in town to address the East Shelby Republican Club’s Master Meal, the congressman and former Gulf War combat pilot spoke directly to the “divisive” nature of Sundquist’s backing of an income tax. Speaking Saturday to attendees of the Dutch Treat Luncheon at the Audobon Cafe on Park Ave., Hilleary was somewhat more circumspect. “Electability will be an issue for Republicans,” Hilleary said, “considering the way things have been done the last few years.” He would not elaborate on the reference afterward, but everyone asked about the remark --- event co-chairmen Ed McAteer and Charles Peete, for example -- said it was clear he meant Sundquist would be a handicap to the Republican nomineee. The subject of electability loomed large for Hilleary. He seemed to be making a point of addressing fears that have been expressed in some circles that he, though far ahead of any conceivable Republican opponent in both fundraising and political support, might not be competitive enough against former Nashville Mayor Phil Bredesen, the likely Democratic nominee. “How are you going to address that and still win?” the congressman asked rhetorically after invoking the specter of Sundquist and his espousal of an income tax. Saying “I love to be a risk tasker, but I have no intention of being a kamikaze pilot,” he then went on to enumerate reasons why he is confident of victory. Reason One was that Ed Bryant, the incumbent Republican congressman in Tennessee’s 7th district, got fully 50 percent of his vote for the Shelby County suburbs, and Hilleary suggested he would do as well. “It’s a very Republican district.” He then pointed out that the state’s three easternmost congressional districts were died-in-the-woll Republican ones and that in his own 4th district he had carried all the counties that former Vice President Al Gore had in his 2000 presidential campaign. Add to that the fact that the remaining districts, except for the 5th (Nashville) and the 9th (inner-city Memphis) were either going upscale in a way that was good for Republican candidates or were conservative and rural, and the odds were good for a conservative Republican candidacy like his own, Hilleary suggested -- especially since, as he made it clear, he intended to paint Bredesen as a tax-and-spend elitist Democrat. Issues addressed by Hilleary at the luncheon included: education, which he named as his priority and which, he said, had to be freed from the control of teachers’ unions and dosed with accountability standards; TennCare, which had to be ratcheted down from benefit levels which made it too attractive for would-be patients, including many in other states, and too expensive for the state to administer; campaign-finance reform, which he said was unsatisfactorily addressed in the current McCain-Feingold bill, which gave workers no redress as to how their unions chose to make candidate donations; and, of course, a state income tax, which he opposes and which he called “the type of tax that interferes with your life the most.”

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