As the countdown begins for the August 6 State and Federal Primary and County General Election, the District 92 State Republican Representative race is heating up with negative advertising against incumbent Rick Tillis, but no one is admitting to being behind the mailings.
Tillis is seeking a third term in office representing Marshal and parts of Franklin, Lincoln and Marion counties. He is being challenged by two newcomers: Vincent Cuevas from Lewisburg, and Todd Warner from Chapel Hill. Both Cuevas and Warner denied any involvement with these advertisements.
Tillis said he wasn’t paying much attention to the negative ads until Phil Williams, an investigative reporter from News Channel 5 in Nashville, called him when he was looking into the mailers that were calling Tillis “a liar, good for illegals and a slander.”
Williams’ report raised the question: “Who is paying for the attack on Tillis?”
The return address on the mailings listed Faith Family Freedom Fund, which is a legitimate conservative organization based in Washington, D.C. However, there is no affiliation between that group and the one sending these ads.
The Washington D.C.-based super PAC is affiliated with FRC Action, a 501(c)(4) membership organization that devotes its resources to promoting candidates who will stand for the sanctity of life and marriage, the importance of family, the vital place of values and faith in our free society and family-friendly tax and spending policies.
There is a Faith Family Freedom Fund registered as a political action committee in Tennessee, but lists a Utah address and a Florida telephone number.
The latest attack mailing has “Paid for by Faith Family Freedom Fund, Sydney Friedopfer, Treasurer, 1059 Cedar Bluff Rd., Knoxville, TN 37923” as the return address.
That address is for Post Net printing services that helps design, print and mail “solutions,” including door-to-door direct mail for customers. Don Taylor said the company is locally owned and operated, and can include any return address on the mailings that a customer wants. For $10 a month, customers can rent a virtual mailbox. After the product is printed, Post Net uses the printing list provided by the customers, groups them in bundles of 100 per zip code before sending to an outside group that adds the stamp following the U.S. Postal Service guidelines. A permit number can also be placed on the mailings instead of a stamp.
“These hit pieces were mailed with a regular stamp,” Tillis said. “Someone unwittingly slipped up and mailed one with Permit No. 383, which is the same postal permit used by Todd Warner,” adding that Warner has relatives who work for the post office.
Warner said that any accusations by Tillis that he’s behind these mailings are “all false.”
“I can tell you with absolute certainty that my campaign has not sent any kind of negative information out at any point during this race,” Warner said. “I am proud to be running a campaign that focuses on what I believe in and stand for, not slander about my opponents.”
Warner suggested that while Tillis has been in office, he has upset constituents when he voted to raise the gas tax after promising not to vote for it.
During the 2017 legislative session, Tillis was one of 37 Republicans who voted in favor of Gov. Bill Haslam’s IMPROVE Act, that increased the gas tax by six cents and diesel tax by 10 cents, as well gave as a reduction on food from a quarter to a full percent.
Following that vote, a large red sign with LIAR written in white was hung underneath the Tillis Jewelry billboard in Lewisburg.
Warner also said that Tillis attacked “my character, my family and the values of this community in a mail piece with his name on it. After receiving blowback from the community, he is now accusing me of going negative to try to change the narrative of his actions – another prime example of why people are sick of politicians these days.”
Warner reiterated that he is not behind a single negative ad in this race, “but I am ahead in the polls. That is exactly why Rick Tillis is now trying to go all out in attacking me.”
Cuevas said he had heard about the mailings and the News Channel 5 report. “The mailings seem to be from some PAC out of Knoxville. What caught my eye was the early mailings by Warner included ‘faith, family and farming,’ and the name of the PAC is Faith Family Freedom. I have no proof of any of this, but it definitely was not me.”
Cuevas’s campaign is not heavily funded. He said he has received donations from family and friends that “I didn’t ask for,” and is reaching voters by “knocking on doors.”
He also stated that any money he had for the campaign would not be spent on his opponents.
Tillis said he thinks he knows who’s behind these negative ads, but “I can’t really make any accusations. We’re going to have to look further into it.”
In addition to his vote for the gas tax hike, Tillis lost favor with many of his colleagues last year when he stepped down as Tennessee House GOP whip amid an anonymous Twitter account that criticized and derided some fellow Republicans and GOP staff.
The anonymous account was operated under the Twitter handle of @CHBmole. The monker implied that the author is an insider within the Cordell Hull Building, otherwise known as CHB, home of the Tennessee legislature since late 2017, and was outed as an account secretly operated by State Representative Rick Tillis (R-Lewisburg), according to newspaper reports in Nashville. The tweets included derogatory and very unkind remarks. That accounts was deactivated after about three months.
One tweet appeared to leak that former State Rep. Joe Carr had been appointed as a Deputy Commissioner for the Tennessee Environment and Conservation prior to the announcement being made public. Along with the comment, “I could not think of a more qualified person,” and a “thinking” emoji was the hashtag “#favoroftheweek.”
Carr said in a telephone conversation on Friday after posting on Facebook, that Tillis is “no way suited to be re-elected, because he “broke every ethical rule,” and is the “worst kind of politician, no matter whether Republican or Democrat,” when he made disparaging remarks “about his colleagues, his friends and those he didn’t even know.”
“Not only does Tillis represent the people in District 92, he also represents everyone in Tennessee when he votes on legislation. People deserve a representative that is honest and trustworthy and has integrity. That is not Rick Tillis,” Carr continued.
When asked if he knew who was behind the negative mailings, Carr said he did, but would not divulge that information. “I can say that it is not Todd Warner.”
When given the opportunity to respond to Carr’s comments, Tillis said he had not seen Carr’s post, therefore, he had no comment. However, he did say that his focus is on the upcoming election.”