Monday, March 27, 2006


Sullivan County Lincoln Day Dinner

I had the pleasure of attending the Sullivan County Lincoln-Reagan Day Dinner on Saturday night at the Meadowview Convention Center. I have always had a fondness for this particular dinner due to the fact that I was born in Sullivan County, graduated from Sullivan East High School not too awful long go, and both of my parents still work in there (by the way, for those who have asked, my father is doing quite well, as the motorcycle took the worst of the injury). While it usually draws a good crowd, this years' version seemed to be a bit bigger - probably in the 585-605 range.

This is probably one of the better run events in the area. However, there seemed to be a problem with seating assignments at some tables, but I don't have the specifics on that. When I arrived, I was immediately welcomed by some of the Corker campaign staff, a few of whom I had spoken with at various other events. They were quite cordial, as they have been throughout the campaign stops.

The beginning of the event was spent mingling with the various candidates for local, state, and federal office in the foyer. I spoke with Tennessee Representative David Davis, who is running for the retiring Bill Jenkins' seat in Congress. We chatted for a few minutes about how the campaign was treating him and whose endorsements he had picked up thus far. He seemed to be in a confident and excited yet controlled mood that night, which is important for David. He needs to take that excitement to the trail, because his voting record is approvingly conservative, and he has been a steady force for the people of Washington County (of which I was one until recently) for nearly a decade. I'm not talking "Van Hilleary excitement" or "Harold Dean excitement," just "Ed Bryant excitement" or "Bill Jenkins excitement" - controlled but inspiring.

I spoke with many others in the foyer - mostly people with whom I have worked with on campaigns in the past or know from the current Senate campaign. Ed Bryant made his way over to see me and thanked me for coming. I moved into the ballroom as seating commenced. That was when I ran into former Johnson City mayor Vance Cheek, who is (like Davis) a candidate for the 1st District seat in Congress. Vance is better known to bloggers as the man behind "Conservatore Pensieri." Vance introduced me to his family and campaign team, and we spoke about the race. Vance has a bubbly personality that will certainly help him on the campaign trail, but he also has connections to both the Sundquist and Bredesen administrations that might not sit well with some in the First District, where neither former governor is very popular. I'm not saying that Vance has done anything wrong or is related to scandals in either administration, but there is always the worry of guilt by association in primaries where all of the candidates are good men. Vance told me to look for an announcement this week regarding his campaign.

I then worked the room for a bit as I made my way to my table. For the record (and in stark opposition to the strange charges of table purchasing by TeamGOP's Jeff Ward), I saw only one table purchased for Van Hilleary, one for Ed Bryant, and two for Bob Corker. Since there were possibly 60 tables set up for the event, the tables bought for the candidates, staff, and supporters weren't anything like I have seen in the past when a straw poll was being conducted (and certainly in opposition to some of the dubious straw polls that have been conducted at some Middle Tennessee events over the past 2 months).

I sat at table #20 with several Ed supporters. Ed was invited to sit with Don Hill, the Kingsport auto dealer and a force in 1st District politics since my infancy. I spotted Bob Corker, who wasn't working the room very hard prior to dinner, but that has been Bob's style at many of these events. He tends to work people after the event as they leave, which is also an effective strategy for a candidate. Plus, as I would find out later, this was to his advantage as his rivals were going to make a bold move later that evening.

Earlier in the week, I had discussed with a friend the quandary of having three Lincoln Day Dinners in three different parts of Tennessee at nearly the same time. I told him that I bet one of the candidates would try to hit at least two and possibly all three of the events. This was with considerable risk, of course. For one, you have transportation problems that could crop up and jeopardize the whole evening (more on that and Senator Allen later). You also have the potential of looking rushed and having two or three bad events as opposed to one good one. So, there was risk. I was right, too, in that two candidates tried the feat of being in multiple places at once.

The program begin with Sullivan County Party Chairman Jason Booher making a few announcements. Tennessee Rep. Jason Mumpower then led us in the Pledge of Allegiance and gave the invocation. In a move I found surprising, Tennessee Rep. Steve Godsey, who is leaving the House to run for Sullivan County Mayor, sang Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the U.S.A." For some reason, there is always singing at Sullivan County and Washington County Lincoln Days, and I have yet to really understand that. It took some guts on Godsey's part to do that, because he isn't exactly Lee Greenwood. In fact, after his piano performance in Memphis, I guess I could say that Godsey isn't exactly Lamar Alexander, either. In either case, Godsey showed a lot of guts in what was a packed house. It was about this time that Van Hilleary walked into the room. I learned later that Van had been at the very beginning of the Knox County Lincoln Day Dinner.

The three U.S. Senate candidates then spoke. Ed Bryant led off first, giving a speech that centered upon fiscal responsibility, immigration reform, and those who were supporting him. Ed then apologized to the crowd for having to excuse himself, but he had a plane to catch. It turns out that Ed was scheduled to speak at the Montgomery County Lincoln Day (which is the 7th District that he represented in Congress for 8 years) at 9:30 Central Time. Ed's staff that was present was surprisingly calm given the circumstances, and it turns out that they were right to be, as Ed arrived in Clarksville in time to give his speech.

Bob Corker then spoke, and if you've heard his stump speech, then you've heard what he said in Sullivan County. The speech centered on his four conservative principles, but it came off a bit rehearsed. At least it seemed that way to me. Of course, it could have been that a few of us at my table thought it was rehearsed because we managed to give Bob's speech for him. It's a bit odd that a candidate who has been able to change positions on nearly every important issue to Tennesseans has such a hard time varying his stump speech. Strange... Apparently everyone else wasn't that interested, either, because it appeared that most people were paying more attention to their salads than to the speaker at the podium.

Van Hilleary then took his turn at the podium. Van's speech was not so much "hellfire and brimstone" as he has done in the past, but his off-the-cuff remarks did raise a few eyebrows. Of particular note, Van started off by saying that Knox County Republicans were "very rude" in their hosting of a Lincoln Day Dinner that evening. Uh, what? Did he really just say that? I admit that it was bad timing for Knox County to have it that day, but "very rude?" I looked to Van to see if he was joking or kidding around. No smile. No chuckle. The Bryant supporter to my left, herself a veteran of political campaigns, leant in and said, "I wonder how Knox County is going to take that." It was about this time that I began to remember why Van lost Knox County in 2002. The rest of Van's speech centered on social issues that had been decided by the judicial system (gay marriage, prayer in school, the Ten Commandments, etc.), but he had a hard time tying that in to the legislative post which he is seeking.

Dinner was then served. Van worked the room for a few minutes before excusing himself for his flight to Montgomery County. (For more on Montgomery County reactions, check out Blogging for Bryant.) I certainly give the Sullivan County GOP credit - serving steak on the "rubber chicken circuit" will insure much repeat business in years to come.

It was about this time that we learned that Senator George Allen, the keynote speaker, would not be able to attend due to plane trouble coming out of New Hampshire. (Gee, I wonder why he would be in New Hampshire? Heh heh.) However, Senator Allen was able to address the crowd via cellphone. It was pretty interesting, but nothing beats the real thing.

Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Ron Ramsey then spoke about state issues and his belief that he will be Lieutenant Governor after the November elections. In one of the funnier lines of the night, Ramsey remarked that John Wilder may have convinced two Republicans to break ranks, awarding him the position of Lt. Gov., but, "I know his age, and time is on my side." Ramsey then introduced Congressman Bill Jenkins.

In one of the headlines of the evening, Congressman Jenkins certainly left the door open for a run for Governor against Phil Bredesen. It was the most optimistic I have heard Bill about this possibility since the announcement of his retirement from Congress several weeks back. After the speeches were over and the audience dismissed, I was able to speak with Congressman Jenkins for about 5 minutes. I told him that he had friends all over this state who would do our best to elect him. I told him that he was in a wonderful position with nothing to lose but everything to gain. I told him that Bredesen was obviously worried about his scandal-ridden Administration because he was trying to raise money against a fictional opponent. Bill respectfully listened, and then he asked, "Do you think I could take my $5 million and beat his $20 million?" I responded, "Heck, Congressman Jenkins, you could take your $2 million and beat his $20 million." He smiled at that. I wished him well and prayed that God would guide him during this time.

Before we were dismissed, the results of the straw poll were announced. As has been published previously, they were as follows:

Ed Bryant - 189 votes
Bob Corker - 152 votes
Van Hilleary - 125 votes
Undecided - 32 votes

Obviously, the Bryant camp was ecstatic with the results. The Corker people were saddened. However, at least they didn't make excuses. I overheard Meredith Hilleary, Van's wife and one of my favorite people in Tennessee politics, saying that Van hadn't performed well because they didn't take the poll seriously and weren't organized. That might be true, but I guess it is all relative. Ed Bryant and Bob Corker were organized, but not overly so. There was no bussing in of teenagers (as Van has done in the past) to stack the voting or buying of dozens of tables. Bryant and Corker simply put forth the right amounts of effort that you would expect at any of the bigger Lincoln Day Dinners in this state. They had tables out front with campaign literature, staff members working those tables, and people passing out stickers in the foyer. One of the saddest moments had to have been when I left the event. Van's table, which was closest to the door, had no one staffing it and, thus, no one around it despite the very nice pamphlets stacked there. My friend remarked that this was "so sad," and I agreed as I looked back at the Bryant table and Corker table, which were still staffed and still campaigning for their respective candidates.

On that note, I should like to think that my theory about Corker's infiltration into Tennessee journalists should be deemed credible. This is in part due to the person managing Corker's campaign table at that time - Ron Scalf. I know Ron from his days at Bristol Motor Speedway, but he now is a journalist for The Valley Beautiful Beacon. In fact, he is the chief reporter, editor, and publisher of that publication. I thought it strange when I read the one-sided article on Mr. Corker from February that was written by Mr. Scalf. At the time, I remarked that it was so untruthfully positive on Corker that it might as well have been written by Corker's campaign staff. Apparently, that was the case. Maybe this will serve as a challenge for the Knoxville News-Sentinel, because I don't know of any of their reporters or editors who have actually campaigned for Bob Corker at an event, instead choosing to do so in print. Maybe they will step up to the challenge... (In all fairness, though, I thought Georgiana Vines' column in today's KNS regarding the Knox County Lincoln Day Dinner was quite neutral.)

I then made my way towards the foyer. Before I got there, I was approached by a member of Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable's campaign staff, who pointed out that the county mayors of nearly every surrounding county had sat with Mr. Venable, who is also running for the 1st District seat against Davis and Cheek. He also pointed out that Venable had busses parked out front with massive campaign signs on them, which I had noticed walking in. There is no doubt that Venable will be well-financed in his bid, that is for sure.

On my way to my car, I was told via cellphone from one of my sources at the Knox County Lincoln Day that nearly 400 people attended and that the number of Ed Bryant stickers on lapels was equal to the number of Bob Corker and Van Hilleary stickers - combined. Having looked at the election results over the past few years, this doesn't surprise me. Ed Bryant will run much stronger in Knox County than some of the pundits believe.

Overall, it was one of the more fun Lincoln Day Dinners I have attended in the past few years. Of course, it is always better when your candidate wins, and it's always nice to have a good steak when you get the chance. I would like to thank everyone who played a part in getting me back to the county of my youth, especially the Sullivan County GOP. I will provide any extra tidbits I left out as they come to me.

UPDATE: I almost forgot - Shirley Ward, TFRW President and mother of TeamGOP's Jeff Ward, sat at Van's table. I was told that she requested to speak, but that request was kindly denied because there was some concern that her talk might be - how to put this - not quite neutral regarding the Senate race. Now, I have to say that this was unconfirmed by me and heard secondhand, but I thought it interesting. I intended to speak to Ms. Ward about that very issue and also a phone message that had been e-mailed to me that she had left on someone's answer machine in Middle Tennessee, but I was unable to do so. Too many people, not enough time...

Meredith Hilleary's excuse that they weren't quite ready for the straw poll sounds ridiculous given the loud noises Van has made about straw polls in very small (unpopulated, not unimportant) places. Van had a narrow win in Sullivan County last year and had a press release out about it before he went to bed. Now he's plunged to third place and it's sad that he's making excuses.
Bartlett -

That's exactly right. For instance, take a gander at the press release that was put out today, trumpeting his win in the famous Rutherford County Chili-Cook-off straw poll, as well as every other straw poll that he won or engineered to win.

TOMORROW'S HEADLINE: Hilleary wins straw poll at Hilleary Family Reunion.


Hello Rob:

It was great seeing you Saturday night. I wanted to make a comment about your post regarding my ties to Governors Sundquist and Bredesen. Firstly, the position I hold (until Friday) is completely judicial in nature. I do not report to the Executive Branch but to the Judicial Branch. The Claims Commission is a civics question gone mad ~ it's an executive appointment, confirmed by the Legislature (David Davis helped carry my appointment bill through the House), with the duties of a trial judge. My appointment was for 8 years so Governor Bredesen inherited me.

My record as a conservative trial judge is extensive. I've interpreted every law that's been presented to me without "making law". This is to the extent that I was once overturned by the Workers Comp Panel because I refused to make law. (cf: Pressley v. State)

I will always be appreciative to Governor Sundquist for giving me this wonderful opportunity; however, we disagreed on many points ~ no, I did not/do not support the income tax :-)

Thank you for your kind words in your blog. I hope we get to know each other better as the campaign moves along. All the best,

Vance -

Thank you for explaining that for both myself and others. I certainly enjoyed speaking with Saturday night, as well as meeting your lovely wife and soon-to-be-indoctrinated scheduler. (Oh, that is one tough job!)

I am strongly considering a questionaire for the 1st District candidates after the deadline passes next week. I would publish these results on VOLCon and use them to make an endorsement. Therefore, you can expect to hear from me soon, as I, too, look forward to learning more about the candidates.


Your being childish about this Shirley Ward stuff. What, she's guilty by association? Regardless of how she personally feels, she hasn't publically endorsed any candidate. You seem to forget, however, that she is also a voter, and can personally support whomever she pleases. Ethically, she should keep it hush, hush, yes, but I have never heard anything from her publically that would suggest otherwise.
I was wondering who the "lesser known" was that was bashing Jeff's mother. Shame on you Rob, getting Jeff upset again.
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Kara -

Who said that Shirley Ward was guilty of anything? Honestly, all I stated was that she sat at Van's table. I also reported a rumor that I heard that she was denied the opportunity to speak. Exactly what there is a crime, and exactly where, pray tell, is the accusation?

OK, I admit that I am starting to get a bit ticked at the inability of some to read commentary instead of merely interpreting it. Has it become a requirement for TeamGOP columnists to be functionally illiterate but fully reactionary? I know that Steve Gill and Mark Green don't fall into that category, but I'm starting to wonder about the rest of y'all.

John -

No comment. (Tongue firmly planted in cheek)


Rob -

"I was told that [Shirley Ward] requested to speak, but that request was kindly denied because there was some concern that her talk might be - how to put this - not quite neutral regarding the Senate race."

Just to let you know, this was YOUR comment; it can be found right after you stated that Ms. Ward sat at Van's table and was denied a moment to speak. There, I have identified the locality of your accusation against Ms. Ward. Maybe YOU should learn to read your own commentary before spewing off ridiculous, asinine, childish jabberwocky about others.

Lest you be reminded, TeamGOP has done far more to advance the conservative movement than you could ever conjure up. Attacking a fine organization that has worked hard, putting principles before petty politics, is shameful. Furthermore, attacking a young conservative who called you on your dishonesty is even more reprehensible. I'm sorry to burst your bloated ego with such frankness, but someone needs to cast you down from your throne.

Maybe you should pick on someone your own size…oh, wait, Kara does barely top five feet tall. Disregard that last remark for inaccuracy.
Justin -

Congratulations, you have proved that my "accusation" - that Ms. Ward sat with the Hilleary's - was made. I said nothing more. I meant nothing more. Heck, I don't care if she does endorse Van. I have no problem with that at all. I have been told today that Ms. Ward is staying functionally neutral, as is her right. Who is to say that she doesn't sit with Ed this weekend and Bob next weekend? I never stated - nor do I have any proof in support - that Ms. Ward is favoring one candidate over another, that she had a speech prepared for Saturday night, or that she asked to speak. That is clearly stated.

C'mon, Justin, you're in law school. I know that you have reading comprehension skills. I know that law school can make you believe that there are always alterior motives behind words, but that isn't the case here.


Rob -

Be careful when you backpedal; you never know what lies behind you waiting to trip you up (like your own words). You still have yet to address the "not quite neutral regarding the Senate race" comment. There's no innuendo there. Rather, it's plain speak. If it’s not an accusation, I’m not quite sure what is.

Aside from your baseless attack on TeamGOP, I take umbrage at you referring to my better half as "functionally illiterate." Just remember, what goes around comes around.
Justin -

There isn't any backpedalling here. I am having to explain words to people who should have a mastery of them.

Besides, why would I need to explain something that is "plain speak?" Who needs something that is "plain speak" explained to them? This is truly perplexing.

However, since you asked, and I am getting tired of this subject... I was told - twice - that the fear was the Ms. Ward might give a speech that would favor one candidate over the other. It was apparent from the beginning that the Sullivan Co. GOP was trying to make this as neutral of an event as possible, so they weren't going to corrupt the chances of that outcome by adding a speaker who might tilt the balance.

Look, that is simply what I heard. I stated that it might not be fact. I never alleged it to be so.

And while I am sorry that you take umbrage with my remarks, your better-half came on this site and attacked me. She may be a lady (but she may not be a conservative, which is a whole other matter), but she walked in here on her own volition. Perhaps the remark was too strong, and I apologize for not choosing a better way to opine my displeasure with the various misreadings of my words by members of TeamGOP.


"She may be a lady (but she may not be a conservative, which is a whole other matter)..."

I believe that "she" is referring to myself, in which case, I'm having a hard time figuring out that comment. Nothing in my very short post would have given you the idea that I'm anything but a conservative. My blog is conservative, too, so your accusation couldn't have arisen out of that...

Oh, I give up. Why get hung up on little details when you can make baseless accusations?
Kara -

I am obviously referring to your previous posts and not to your brief comment tonight.


Excuse me for not understanding your vagueness, but please clarify as to which of my "previous posts" insinuate that I am not a conservative. I most assuredly do not agree with you on many, many, things, but it may be me who is the true conservative of the two. We'll leave that to others to debate.
Kara -

OK, let's start with your most recent post at TeamGOP. While it only addressed issues related to social conservatism, a true conservative is such on all levels.


Kara -

By the way, in an attempt to put such things behind us, if I am in err to your conclusion that the Religious Right and their social conservatism is bad for the Republican Party, please advise me of such. Upon more study, you seem to have a conservative resume, but I am quite confused as to the intent of that post (on TeamGOP and also on your personal blog).

Let me know where you're coming from. If not here, e-mail me (utlegaleagle-at-yahoo-dot-com).


Lest you be reminded, TeamGOP has done far more to advance the conservative movement than you could ever conjure up. Attacking a fine organization that has worked hard, putting principles before petty politics, is shameful.

JO, I think anyone who's actually read TeamGOP would fall on the floor laughing at what you wrote. How exactly has TeamGOP advanced the conservative movement? Have these bozos won a single race against a Democrat?

How exactly have they put principles about petty politics? Jeff Ward posts unsubstantiated rumors about other Republican candidates and his enemies in Tipton County all the time. Heck, he just posted that Rob was an a-hole! Way to put principles about petty politics and take the highroad Ward.

TeamGOP could have been so much more, but it's viewed as nothing but a Van Hilleary propaganda machine now. Anyone who doesn't stroke Jeff Ward's ego can forget getting a fair shake there. Can you even name one person who writes for TeamGOP that's not supporting Van?

It's unfortunate that TeamGOPers take criticism as some sort of badge of honor, because the idiotic rhetoric that comes from the organization does nothing to help Republicans or the conservative cause. TeamGOP serves to make Republicans look like foolish simpletons and thier main political objective seems to be to get Jeff Ward noticed. It's sad.

As for what Rob wrote about Shirley Ward, it hardly warranted the response he received from Jeff Ward. I doubt it would have received such a response if it weren't true though. It's well known that Shirley Ward is supporting Van, she's been warned about it by the state party. She wants to keep up the appearance of being neutral though. Whatever. It's all stupid.

The moral of the story for the Ward's should be, when you use a very public medium that claims to be unbiased to launch attacks against fellow Republicans, spread rumors and outright lies, don't be surprised when the same thing happens to you.

I don't know how we're all going come together after this primary is over.
I'm still in search of true conservatism.
First, I would like to thank all who attended the Sullivan County Republican Party Lincoln-Reagan Day Dinner. It was extremely unfortunate that Senator Allen encountered plane trouble and was unable to attend the event. I know many were disappointed, however everyone seemed to understand.

I do not wish to participate in any personal feud or dispute, but feel it necessary to set the record straight.

1. Van Hilleary did not purchase a single table at the 2006 Sullivan County Lincoln-Reagan Day Dinner.
2. Van and Meredith Hilleary and Tennessee Federation of Republican Women President Shirley Ward were invited by a resident of Sullivan County to sit at a table they had purchased.
3. Shirley Ward did not speak because of the limited amount of time available and other logistical concerns. Any alleged involvement in a political campaign was not a factor.

I encourage everyone to remember Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment and commit to unite behind the eventual Republican nominee in all contested primary races throughout the state.


Jason C. Booher
Chairman, Sullivan County Republican Party
Congratulations, Jason Booher on getting yourself elected as "Chairman, Sullivan County Republican Party"...why it seemes like just yesterday (in reality, probably just over one year ago) when your were calling in live to a regional talk radio show with your ranting - I seem to recall that it was on "The Marc Bernier Show" on WFHG 92.7 FB where you delivered your bigoted anti-Mormon comments" on the air...
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