The rise and fall of a political wunderkind: Matthew Hill 2004-2020

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Jonesborough, Tenn. (WJHL) – A controversial 2002 income tax vote helped usher in the Matthew Hill era in Northeast Tennessee politics. Another controversial vote — this one over school vouchers — likely contributed to that era’s end.

“Year after year he voted ‘no’ on voucher legislation,” area public school teacher Jenee Peters said. “He voted ‘no’ every year up until he didn’t.”

And when he didn’t — casting a crucial vote in a 50-48 2019 measure approving the use of vouchers for private education — a base of teacher support he’d enjoyed since 2014 vanished.

“I would like to think the local area teachers were the final nail in his coffin, but there were clearly other issues that brought about the demise of his campaign,” Peters said.

In the 16 years between 2004 and 2020, Matthew Hill of Jonesborough rose from being a fresh-faced, 25-year-old freshman Republican lawmaker with the backing of deep-pocketed Christian conservatives to a high point as deputy speaker of Tennessee’s House of Representatives.

Matthew Hill, then 25, speaks to News Channel 11 following his first primary victory in August 2004.

Hill, who declined a request to be interviewed for this story, was joined midway through his tenure by his brother, Timothy Hill, and a friend, Micah Van Huss. Together the trio formed the core of a significant GOP voting block, longtime Nashville political reporter Erik Schelzig said.

“Even though it’s a supermajority Republican caucus things can break down along various lines and when you already had those three and they had another 10 or 15 people that tended to stick with them, it could really make a big difference,” Schelzig said.

The night of Aug. 6, the fortunes of all three fell together, at least for the time being. Matthew Hill and Van Huss were soundly defeated in primary challenges, with Hill losing by a nearly two to one margin to political newcomer Rebecca Alexander.

Timothy Hill, who also declined interview requests for this story, finished runner-up in the GOP primary for retiring First District Congressional Rep. Phil Roe’s seat. He had declined the opportunity to simultaneously run for his 3rd District house seat, paving the way for the representative who preceded him for one term, Scotty Campbell, to return to the office.

Matthew Hill speaks on the House floor several days after his primary defeat.

The Hills’ and Van Huss’s story is one of shifting donor bases, influence in Nashville and — according to some constituents — a tendency to neglect their home bases in favor of political maneuvering.

Van Huss offered the following statement: “Public service is not about holding onto office as long as possible but about doing what’s right. I am thankful to the folks of Wahsington County for the opportunity to stand for right.”

Jonesborough Mayor Chuck Vest recalled town leaders eventually moving on from Hill when they needed things done for the town, despite what he called a cordial relationship on a surface level.

“I think over the years people realized that Matthew was more in Nashville for himself with some of the things that came up with campaign donations and some of those things, trying to get more power down there, that seemed to be the focus,” Vest said.

Peters communicated often with Hill and said he gave teachers “a few good years” starting in 2014 after an early adversarial relationship with them. But a seeming focus on political power within the Capitol became pretty clear to people, culminating for the education community in Hill’s abandonment of his anti-voucher position.

“He wasn’t grounded in his community,” Peters said. “He was more interested in playing politics in Nashville and currying favor with the governor and making a bid for the speakership.”

Schelzig, who edits The Tennessee Journal and covered the Capitol for 12 years for the Associated Press, said the political side of, well, politics, became an area of expertise for Matthew Hill.

Matthew Hill’s April 2019 vote in favor of Gov. Bill Lee’s school voucher legislation may have marked a turning point in his electability.

“He definitely figured out the gears of the machinery of power within the building, and there (are) a lot of arcane parliamentary tricks that can be used to your advantage,” Schelzig said.

Hill came close to reaching the apex of power in the House last year. First he was named deputy speaker in January after Franklin Rep. Glen Casada won the speakership following Beth Harwell’s retirement.

Then, following Casada’s resignation in a scandal just six months later, Hill sought the speakership himself. One of six nominated candidates, he reached the third ballot before falling to now-speaker Cameron Sexton and now-deputy Curtis Johnson.

Hill’s style and substance both left him open to a successful challenge, the woman who led Alexander’s campaign said.

A veteran of dozens of races, Vicki Shell said she divides political work into thirds — the politics of running and winning elections, constituent service, and legislating.

Political consultant Vicki Shell represented the challenger who finally defeated Matthew Hill.

“In Matthew’s case, in my opinion it wasn’t divided into thirds,” said Shell, who also ran the campaign of Tim Hicks, who defeated Van Huss. “I think the political part was the larger portion, about holding onto what we’ve got, keeping our position, climbing, whatever.”

The Hills’ is also a story of controversy, not just around constituent issues and Nashville’s “inside baseball” but around the raising and spending of money and the multiple businesses affiliated with Matthew Hill in particular. That controversy included questions about the using campaign funds to procure services from his own businesses, and his apparent failure to launch any that had staying power outside of politics.

A voice crying out on the airwaves

Matthew Hill during a 2004 primary debate.

Long before Matthew Hill was establishing his off and on and off again relationship with teachers, representing mayor Vest’s district or rising through the leadership ranks, he was a 25-year-old radio show host working for Christian stations within a network run by Kenneth Hill, his father.

Hill parlayed a familiar voice and a likely base of support into a 2004 primary run against moderate Republican Bob Patton of Johnson City.

A five-term veteran, Patton had pledged not to support a state income tax — then reversed course. That drew the ire of many in the district, and Hill took 49.8 percent of the vote to Patton’s 41 percent in a three-way race before defeating Tony Delucia in November’s general election with 59 percent of the vote.

Incumbent Bob Patton at a 2004 primary debate.

Hill’s financial support from a prominent Christian conservative family first came into play immediately. Patton raised $33,010 in his reelection bid, but Hill raised $45,339 in the primary battle and $61,039 for the full race.

Of that amount, $17,000 came from various members of the Gregory family, owners of Bristol, Tenn.-based King Pharmaceuticals. The Gregorys were highly active in conservative politics at the time, and $8,000 of Hill’s support came from a Gregory-funded political action committee called the Tennessee Conservative PAC.

Starting what would be another pattern, Hill received $2,000 from the Johnson City Professional Firefighters PAC. And interestingly, he also received a $250 donation from the man who would eventually tap him as deputy speaker, Glen Casada.

All told, Hill received just $3,250 of individual donations from people in the 7th District, along with an additional two $1,000 PAC donations from the Washington County GOP Executive Committee and the Washington County Republican Women. That meant less than 12 percent of Hill’s funding came from the district in his very first race.

Hill would raise an impressive $119,763 during his bid for a second term. Almost half that amount came from PACs, and another $19,000 from Gregory family members and their PAC.

He’d need it, as former Washington County Sheriff Fred Phillips, a Democrat, mounted a serious general election challenge. Phillips raised about $130,000, a good bit of it from local Republicans and $45,000 from the state Democratic party.

It was almost but not quite enough in a district that was becoming more and more firmly Republican as Phillips pulled 47.7 percent of the vote to Hill’s 52.3 percent.

By 2008, Hill was solidifying his base. He brushed off a primary challenge from Johnson City employee and now Greeneville City Manager Todd Smith before winning 69 percent against Democrat Mike Williams.

Working Nashville, developing a local reputation

Hill developed a reputation for what Schelzig called “parliamentary trickery” early in his House run.

“I remember in 2008 or so, Matthew Hill tried to amend a bill that had to do with sewer systems to also allow employers to require their workers to speak English,” Schelzig said.

Tennessee Journal Editor Erik Schelzig

“There was a big fight on the floor,” he said. “It got defeated along party lines and it was sort of a sign of things to come.”

Indeed, hot button social issues and conservative red meat politics was a Hill trademark from the beginning. But Vest, the Jonesborough mayor, said when it came to basic constituent services Hill seemed to go from ineffectual in his early days to disinterested in later years.

The two came into office at similar times, with similar political values, Vest said. Vest and his fellow town leaders had inherited a woefully inadequate wastewater system. Vest figured that Hill was an important potential asset in seeking funding, but while he was responsive, Vest said Hill didn’t deliver the goods.

When town leaders realized a solution wasn’t forthcoming through Hill, they crossed district lines, Vest said, “navigating towards” Hill’s then-colleague Dale Ford, who represented the eastern half of the county and also had long ties to Jonesborough.

“Dale was probably instrumental in getting us the state funding to improve our wastewater system,” Vest said. “That seemed to be where we would migrate to to get things done just because he had more influence in Nashville at that time getting things done.”

Vest chalks those early difficulties getting results up to Hill’s inexperience, but says eventually something seemed to change.

“I think Matthew, rightly and we appreciate it, he really became involved in more state politics whether it’s pro-life, Second Amendment, income tax and those type things.”

Jonesborough Mayor Chuck Vest

Vest said, however, that such issue positions are near universal among Northeast Tennessee Republicans.

“But we needed help in our community and I think that became less of a focus for him, which led to the failure to return phone calls, failure to return emails, and just no results.”

In Nashville, though, Hill solidified his position after the Republican takeover of the House in 2008. After winning two-thirds of the general election vote in 2010, Hill gained his first chairmanship, in the subcommittee on health after Beth Harwell became House speaker.

Enter the triumvirate

Two years later, after nearly doubling up Democrat Nancy Fischman in the 2012 election, Hill was joined by his brother Timothy in the 3rd District and friend Van Huss in the 6th.

Timothy Hill, soundly defeated by Scotty Campbell in the 2010 primary for the district representing Johnson County and part of Sullivan County, took advantage when Campbell opted not to run for re-election after one term.

Van Huss, meanwhile, managed to unseat Hill’s fellow Washington County incumbent Ford — the same legislator who had become Vest’s go-to for getting help for Jonesborough.

Van Huss’s campaign team hammered on the fact that Ford had allowed other House members to cast so-called “ghost votes” for him when he wasn’t present.

That team’s voice was amplified not by local donors — Van Huss received just $1,700 from local sources during the primary campaign — but from $12,100 in Nashville PAC money and another $7,600 in middle Tennessee donors.

Matthew Hill, right, and Micah Van Huss on primary night 2014.

Van Huss also received some Gregory family money, as did Timothy Hill.

And Timothy Hill got help from the same Middle Tennessee PAC – “Truth Matters” — as Van Huss, along with more than $11,000 of his $35,000 in receipts before the primary from “Multi-Disciplinary Consultants LLC” PAC. That Knoxville-based PAC was tied to pain management clinics.

Speaker Harwell also contributed through her PAC, and when the three headed to Nashville in January 2013, Matthew Hill received his first committee chairmanship. That was with what Schelzig calls a “big, important committee” — the local government committee.

Flip flop lands Matthew in Harwell’s doghouse

Not three months after his appointment, Hill cast the deciding vote in that same committee, effectively sidelining legislation backed by Harwell and sponsored by fellow Tri-Cities House Republican Jon Lundberg — allowing local referenda to legalize wine sales in supermarkets.

According to a March 13 Chattanooga Times Free Press article, the vote surprised Harwell, who had “muscled the legislation through subcommittee last week with Hill’s help.”

Hill claimed he wanted potential amendments discussed, but while wine in supermarkets wasn’t a dead issue, Hill’s future as a leader under Harwell’s speakership was.

Hill during the local government committee debate over allowing wine in supermarkets. His vote that day would cause a fall from grace with then-speaker Beth Harwell.

“Everyone was upset and as a consequence he was thrown out as chair of that committee,” Schelzig said. “The bill later passed and now nobody really thinks about the fact that you can buy wine in supermarkets.”

Hill was gone from the committee when the 109th General Assembly opened in 2015 and wouldn’t enjoy a chairmanship until 2019 when Casada won the speakership.

He and his mates didn’t completely disappear even during the Harwell speakership, Schelzig said.

“He did wield a lot of influence with the most conservative faction within the Republican caucus,” Schelzig said. “He and his brother were often on the forefront of issues like fighting Common Core, or other things that weren’t necessarily the priority of the leadership at the time but they managed to coalesce a vocal group of lawmakers to help force the issue, a lot of times on the floor.

“So they definitely had a lot of sway within the caucus and within the legislature as a whole.”

Vest gives it another whirl

As Matthew Hill was experiencing his ups and downs under Harwell’s speakership, and with Ford replaced by a Hill ally, Jonesborough’s Vest reached out for help on another issue. The town wanted to get the go-ahead for certain events to be held at the new seniors center that had opened in late 2015.

“Matthew, he always acted like he didn’t quite know what was going on, he wasn’t up to speed, but it had been stuff that had been addressed with him multiple times,” Vest said.

At that point, Vest said he realized town leaders’ time would be better spent pursuing other avenues.

“At some point we realized that there really wasn’t any interest on his part to help the town of Jonesborough in any meaningful way, and we tried to really work with (State Senator) Rusty Crowe and other state officials.”

That worked out for Jonesborough, Vest said, as the town has cultivated good relationships with various governors, U.S. senators and others.

“So we’ve been able to work around not having a state rep that’s responsive to us.”

2014: Matthew enlists teachers’ help to parry challenge

All three members of the Hill bloc would be challenged in 2014. The two Washington Countians would face current and former Johnson City commissioners Clayton Stout (Van Huss) and Phil Carriger (Hill).

Carriger was considered a strong candidate, and for help Hill turned to a voting bloc with whom he hadn’t been on the best of terms — public schoolteachers. Jenee Peters said Hill had “helped lead the charge to take our bargaining rights away” in 2011.

But in 2014, out of favor with the House leadership and facing a serious challenge, Hill approached area teachers. After several meetings, including one in which Peters said Hill “apologized for his role in (the bargaining legislation) and expressed a desire to move forward in a more positive fashion where he wanted to better represent our needs and concerns,” many teachers opted to support his 2014 campaign.

Matthew Hill meets with teachers in 2014.

Peters said she knew full well the arrangement was “transactional,” but teachers gave up days of their summer to campaign for him, marched in parades with him, and ultimately Hill defeated Carriger by 10 percentage points.

Hill thanked teachers publicly on election night. Peters said he “gave them credit for pushing him over the edge to the win, and I agree with him.”

For awhile, she said, teachers got as good as they had given.

Jenee Peters speaks to News Channel 11 during the 2014 meeting Hill attended.

“To his credit, years after that he did support legislation that was classroom friendly. He did talk about TVAAS (the state’s standardized testing model) and the unfair practices of tying it to teachers’ evaluations, and he supported a ban on state standardized testing for our youngest kids in K through 2.”

And like he had with the wine in supermarkets issue and Harwell’s wishes, he voted against any efforts to establish school voucher programs until he didn’t.

Tilting at windmills and quoting satirical newspapers

Van Huss, meanwhile, had quickly picked up on the PAC and outside money game. He collected $15,000 in 2013, his first non-election year. $10,000 came from PACs and the rest from Middle Tennessee donors of the Miller family — a group that also supported the Hills.

Another $22,000 came before the 2014 primary, almost all of it from PACs as well. Only about $1,000 came from local sources to support Van Huss in his first re-election run, but the $36,000 he had to use, and a strong base of support, was enough to lift him past Stout by almost 1,000 votes.

Micah Van Huss staunchly advocated for individual firearms rights during his years on the hill.

Prior to his first re-election, Van Huss had shown a penchant for supporting and proposing legislation related to firearms — he’s for them — and hot-button issues for conservatives. For instance, he introduced two laws in early 2013 that related to the United Nations — one prohibiting UN representatives from operating in Tennessee in any official capacity and another prohibiting them from observing elections.

Van Huss did, however, sponsor annexation legislation that eventually passed the House overwhelmingly. It limited cities’ ability to annex property within their urban growth boundaries without a majority vote of the residents in the area proposed for annexation.

After defeating Stout, Van Huss introduced a raft of gun-related bills, including one to make the Barrett Model 82A1 rifle the official state firearm and another enacting open carry. He also sponsored abortion-related legislation and a law that would have disallowed public officials from solemnizing marriages.

Van Huss pushed for the now-passed “heartbeat bill” starting in 2018. That was the same year he came under some derision for seriously quoting the satirical website “The Onion” in a floor discussion about college hazing.

Micah Van Huss cites satirical newsletter ‘The Onion’ while discussing an anti-hazing bill.

Schelzig called Van Huss an “interesting” legislator.

“He seemed to care most about passing resolutions that would agitate people that he opposed, mostly on the left,” he said. “I think it got him a lot of attention but it wasn’t necessarily the kind of attention that got him a lot of support back home. People felt like he was potentially focusing on the wrong issues and not focusing on their issues.”

As for Peters, she said as Matthew Hill went, so went Van Huss, including in his relationships with teachers. And she brought up the Onion incident without prompting.

“You’ve got an educated constituent base, especially with educators, how are we going to go out and support somebody that quotes The Onion as a primary source in a legislative committee?”

Questions about money

As the Hills and Van Huss remained at the center of what Schelzig called a shifting but influential bloc of ultra-conservatives, Hill ally Casada of Franklin made his bid for the speakership following Harwell’s unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign and retirement.

Casada had formed a PAC in 2006 that supported Matthew Hill from its inception. Its records show contributions from James Gregory starting in 2008, and contributions to Timothy Hill as early as his unsuccessful 2010 bid.

All three of the legislators got help from Casada’s PAC at some point, as did several other Northeast Tennessee lawmakers including former Kingsport Rep. Tony Shipley and Greeneville Rep. David Hawk.

At the same time, while both Hills and Van Huss continued collecting more PAC and outside the district money than local donations, they also began receiving money from PACs and individuals connected to medication-assisted drug recovery and pain management.

Catalyst Health Solutions. Dr. Ralph Reach. P.A.T.A.T. Watauga Recovery Center. Dr. Tim Smyth. Cleveland Back and Pain Clinic.

Those are among some of the contributors and they were preceded by donations to Matthew Hill starting in 2011. That year, numerous doctors and pain management groups gave him campaign donations, including $5,000 each from Lensgraf Clinic and Multi-Disciplinary Consultants LLC, two Knoxville businesses that were in the same block of Papermill Road.

Van Huss’s financial disclosures show that he received personal income in addition to campaign money from Watauga Recovery Centers in both 2016 and 2017 and for P.A.T.A.T., Bristol, Tenn.-based organization with its own PAC formed in 2015. And P.A.T.A.T.’s disclosures show a $1,226.51 payment for advertising in June 2016 to Leviathan Design, a company owned by Van Huss.

The initial $24,900 that funded P.A.T.A.T. came from mostly Tri-Cities area physicians and recovery groups.

In early 2016, though, the largest donor at $25,000 was Biodelivery Services International of Raleigh, N.C. Catalyst Health Solutions, a Johnson City-based provider of medication assisted treatment for opioid disorders, gave $14,000.

Biodelivery Services’ website has a current update showing it “remains committed to the chronic pain community” during COVID-19. It also shows that buprenorphine, a main ingredient in suboxone, is one of the company’s main products.

The Van Huss/P.A.T.A.T. connection is one of several that are revealed through document searches of donations, payments and the like.

In 2009, the Hill family formed Right Way Marketing. First announced with much fanfare but without the Hills’ names attached, the company opened in south Johnson City as a telemarketing operation.

In the end, it’s primarily been a political polling and marketing company. It moved to Blountville soon after opening, and it’s been listed as a source of income on both Hills’ financial disclosure for years.

It’s also been the recipient of Hill and Van Huss campaign money — as well as that of other Tennessee politicians and political groups.

One of those, a PAC called Tennesseans 4 Ethics in Government, was formed in 2012 by Andrew Miller, a member of the Middle Tennessee family that gave significant sums to all three men over the years.

That PAC spent nearly $8,000 trying — successfully — to defeat Dale Ford in 2012. It also spent $9,425 for Right Way to do polling that year. It paid Right Way another $7,700 for polling in mid-2014, and an additional $22,500 in July of that year for direct mail services.

Its work accomplished — including helping Van Huss get elected — the PAC petered out around 2015. Andrew Miller, CEO of a health care business, had given it $65,000 of its total receipts of about $125,000, and his brother Tracy Miller, an MTSU professor, had chipped in $15,000.

Right Way had collected nearly $40,000 of the PAC’s funds over a span of two years. It also received more than $36,000 of Matthew Hill’s campaign funds over the years and more than $8,000 for Van Huss, whose wife was listed as receiving income from the company on one of his financial disclosures.

Numerous other Tennessee politicians, including Tri-Cities’ representatives and senators Bud Hulsey, Rusty Crowe and Jon Lundberg, have used Right Way. And the state has ruled that as long as a candidate isn’t paying above market rates for a service, he or she can use their own business for services.

Lundberg himself has paid his own company, The Corporate Image, out of campaign funds over the years.

But taken together, the web of businesses, shifting PACs and other elements of the Hills and Van Huss’s political approach have gotten people’s attention through the years.

The Casada era: ‘Flying too close to the sun?’

When Beth Harwell left the House, Hill ally Glen Casada won a bid for the speakership and named Matthew Hill deputy speaker. The entire trio emerged from somewhat of a political wilderness, at least in terms of leadership.

“That really indicated a big move growth in influence for both Matthew, Timothy and also Micah Van Huss,” Schelzig said.

Matthew Hill was named chair of the Select Committee on Rules and the Finance, Ways, and Means Appropriations Subcommitee in addition to being appointed to an additional seven committees.

Timothy Hill was named chair of the Commerce Committee and appointed to another six committees. Van Huss chaired the Constitutional Protections and Sentencing Subcommittee and served on five other committees.

The moment was Matthew Hill’s and he grabbed it, doing what he knew best, Schelzig said.

As deputy speaker, Matthew Hill speaks during debate on school voucher legislation in April 2019.

“He was in charge of the rules and sort of shutting down dissent wherever it was to be found. He was rumored to have created these ‘kill bill lists’ where basically any bill that wasn’t approved by the speaker’s office would be killed in subcommittee early on, whether it was Democratic or Republican.”

While proof that the lists really existed never was solid, “he became blamed for them when people’s bills started dying,” Schelzig said.

Hill also got crosswise with Lundberg in the fall of 2019 over a $75,000 grant he announced for a local Isaiah 117 House. The non-profit helps transition children to foster care. Lundberg questioned the process behind the funding and eventually the money was put on hold.

Schelzig said some legislators saw it as part of a “slush fund” for Casada’s allies. Hill insisted everything was aboveboard but people weren’t all convinced, Schelzig said.

“There was a lot of hurt feelings among people who felt on the outs under the Casada-Hill regime that they weren’t going to get any of the money, so they were convinced there was a slush fund. Like anything else down here perception is reality and it really ended up hurting Matthew Hill as he was trying to run for speaker himself.”

The run for speaker and the final challenge

But run for speaker Hill did in the wake of Casada’s ignominious departure. With that run came associations with two of the hallmarks of Hill’s political career — money and PACs.

This time it was a PAC that had been created by Timothy Hill in 2016 — People Working for Reform. Funding had come from James Gregory and from some of the addiction recovery players, among others, but the PAC didn’t take in very much or spend much until 2019.

That was when the principals behind the effort to establish a special Retail Tourism tax zone in Boones Creek put about $50,000 into the PAC.

People Working for Reform then proceeded to help Matthew Hill dole out more than two dozen $1,000 checks to various state representatives between May 29 and July 16.

It wasn’t enough, as the July 24 contest for speaker proved. After a first-round tie with Curtis Johnson with 16 votes, two behind Sexton’s 18, Hill stayed relatively close in the next two rounds, but not close enough.

“The heavy-handed leadership approach that rubbed a lot of people the wrong way was right in Hill’s wheelhouse and a lot of people were still angry at him for it,” Schelzig said. “But there was still a really strong core of people who supported him.”

There was also a strong group of people who had continued supporting Hill since 2014 — teachers. That support’s evaporation involved not just a “what,” but a “how,” Jenee Peters said.

She said a group of teachers met with Hill and Van Huss on a Saturday during the 2019 session. Hill told teachers the voucher legislation would pass by large margins and that he needed to vote for it to have some influence in the legislation’s rollout.

Teachers had been following the debate and Peters, a math teacher, said their data suggested otherwise.

“I said ‘I don’t understand how it’s going to pass by large margins’ when at the time the chair of the Republican caucus who’s now the Speaker of the House did not support it,” Peters said, referencing Sexton.

That remark drew silence from Hill, followed by another teacher asking him how many people in his district had called asking him to support the voucher bill. “To his credit, he answered ‘hardly anybody,'” Peters said.

That wasn’t the end of the educators’ pressure. Several of them took a Thursday off and drove to Nashville for a budget subcommittee meeting that included a vote on the proposal.

“We sat there with our cell phones and recorded him live. It was actually the only time in the 2019 legislative session that he voted no on the voucher bill. All other times he was full steam ahead on the voucher bill except when his local teachers showed up to film him.”

On April 23, 2019, Hill joined 48 other Republicans and one Democrat in a 50-48 majority. Twenty-three Republicans opposed the measure.

The law was ruled unconstitutional earlier this year and that decision is under appeal.

There will be no appealing the sizable defeats that were dealt to Matthew Hill and Van Huss. Peters mentioned what she called “dirty politics and questionable business practices” as factors in Hill’s defeat.

But she said with close to 1,600 teachers in Johnson City and Washington County — and an even larger circle of influence due to family, friends and community — educators certainly helped with Alexander and Hicks’s margins if they didn’t provide them entirely.

Schelzig agreed on both counts.

“He evidently felt comfortable enough in his vote for vouchers that he was willing to alienate the teachers and it was probably a miscalculation in the long run,” Schelzig said.

With respect to other issues, Schelzig said Hill “sort of gave opponents a lot of time to dig in and expose things that appeared unseemly to some. And I think maybe in retrospect he might have been flying too close to the sun there in his speaker’s bid.”

Peters thinks the voucher vote was another example of Hill’s thirst for influence. He and Van Huss didn’t back Gov. Bill Lee in the 2018 Republican primary and she said Hill probably felt the need to “curry favor” with the new administration.

“A lot of teachers really think it boiled down to Nashville politics and him choosing that over the needs and concerns of his area teachers and students.”

Shell, the political consultant, said Hill’s House career seemed to be marked by a flair for the political that left his actual support at home thin in the end.

“I know people that would go to meet down there and they wouldn’t be received,” Shell said. “Our legislators, I’m sorry, they need to receive everybody that knocks on their door if they were a political opponent or not. You lay that aside, you lay politics aside when you enter into the service, and politics overrode that in my opinion.”

That penchant for politics and power — some might even say a sense of entitlement — apparently stayed with Hill through his loss in the speakership contest, Schelzig said. Legislators quickly learned Hill didn’t intend to vacate his prime office next to the speaker’s suite in favor of now-deputy speaker Curtis Johnson.

“I think instead of having a big fight about it they just agreed to let him stay. Of course that’s not going to be the case when he’s up there packing his bags … heading back to Jonesborough.”

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