Van Hilleary calls for Republicans to show unity

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   Calling on Republicans to unite in the face of a "deficit of decency," former U.S. congressman and gubernatorial candidate Van Hilleary told Carter County Republicans "We have to get fired up this year, we have to be together. We are not exempt from doing our part."
   Hilleary was the keynote speaker Friday night at the Carter County Republican Party's Lincoln Day Dinner, held at Sutton Hall at Milligan College. Invoking the issues of gay marriage, Kid Rock's lyrics and Janet Jackson's breast-baring performance at the Super Bowl, he told the more than 180 dinner attendees the United States was dealing with a national deficit of decency that threatened the traditional values championed by the GOP.
   "We are at an absolute crossroads in this nation," he said. Hilleary felt the issue of gay marriage could become more than a state issue if Democratic candidate Sen. John Kerry won the presidential election in November. He felt Kerry's possible choices for U.S. Supreme Court justices could force states to recognize gay marriages as legal.
   "It is not government's place to tell us whether we should be Christian, Jew or Muslim," said Hilleary. However, he felt the nation's Judeo-Christian legacy had shaped the moral policies of Americans since the nation was founded. "Either we are a God-fearing nation or we are not," he said.
   He felt the state GOP could pick up one to three seats in both the House and Senate in November's statewide elections. Hilleary said the Republican Party intended to challenge House Speaker James Naifeh, D-Covington, and Lt. Gov. John D. Wilder in November.
   Hilleary also said Republicans had targeted state Sen. Tommy Kilby who narrowly defeated Republican Mark Goins in a special election held in April. The election became necessary after former state Sen. Lincoln Davis was elected to Congress in November of 2002. The win by Kilby, D-Wartburg, maintained the makeup of the state Senate at 18 Democrats and 15 Republicans. The GOP leadership had hoped to trim the Democratic majority in the Senate to one vote.
   Former Gov. Don Sundquist's advocacy of state income tax drove a wedge in the state GOP resulting in some pro income tax Republicans being unseated from the state House and Senate two years ago. Hilleary was the Republican nominee for governor against Democrat Phil Bredesen who bested him by roughly 50,000 votes in the November 2002 election. Hilleary actually complimented Bredesen's pledge to reform TennCare, but also felt the specter of a state income tax could return to haunt Nashville if the governor won a second term.
   Before running for the governor's office, Hilleary spent eight years in Washington representing Tennessee's 5th Congressional District. He was elected in 1994 when a slew of freshman Republicans swept into Congress giving the party its first majority in the House of Representatives in 40 years.
   A Desert Storm veteran, Hilleary also urged Republicans to actively campaign for President George Bush and his leadership during the nation's war on terror.
   Thoughts of U.S. servicemen and women present and past were heavy at the Lincoln Dinner event that included tributes to POWs and military veterans from Carter County.
   Hilleary will be a state delegate to the Republican National Convention held in New York City from Aug. 30 to Sept. 2. While touting the GOP's election year ambitions, Hilleary was coy on his own political intentions. He declined to say whether he planned to challenge Bredesen in 2006 or seek another term in Congress.
   "I am really working to see the majority of the Legislature go Republican," he said.