State House candidate Flo Matheson says she “almost fainted” when first hearing that the Tennessee Republican Party had accused her of supporting a state income tax, but now she believes the GOP news release — though wrong — is helping her campaign.
The state GOP earlier this week sent media a news release on Democrat Matheson’s remarks at a candidate forum with her opponent, state Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville.
It quotes state Republican Chairman Chris Devaney as saying the comments left him wondering whether the state Democratic Party has encouraged its candidates to “adopt this extremist, big government agenda which would amount to some of the largest tax increases in our state’s history.”
The release was accompanied by an audio recording that, as first reported by The City Paper, stops just after Matheson says she supports “a progressive income tax.”
Matheson said her next words were to say she was referring to the federal income tax and made the point that, though state legislators have no impact on federal taxes, voters should be wary of candidates who want to favor the “extremely wealthy” in tax policy.
“I am not, and never have been, for a state income tax,” she said. “That’s crazy. I don’t know anyone who is for a state income tax.”
The state GOP did accurately report that she favors restoring the state’s inheritance tax — which legislators voted to repeal earlier this year — and supports the idea of a state “living wage,” which would be higher than the federal minimum wage, Matheson said.
Revenue from the inheritance tax, she said, should be used to reduce the state sales tax on groceries.
Sexton said Thursday that he was at the forum and left with the understanding that Matheson was supporting a state income tax. After her “progressive income tax” remark, Sexton said he made a point of saying he was opposed to such a tax and that appeared to be a difference between the two candidates.
“She didn’t say, ‘No, Cameron, you’re wrong,'” he said, adding the failure to do so reinforced his belief in Matheson backing an income tax.
Matheson said she does not recall Sexton’s followup comments.
Initially, Matheson said she was “really disturbed that they were secretly taping me with the sole purpose of smearing me.”
On reflection, she said the resulting Republican news release may help her underdog campaign by boosting her name recognition — even though the release only referred to her as “the Democratic nominee for state House in District 25.”
“It was really dumb,” she said. “They were doing me a big favor by getting my name out over something that was so dumb.”
Adam Nickas, executive director of the state Republican Party, refused to say who provided the tape recording. The party did not alter it in any way, he said, and it was received ending just as passed on to media.
“I think it was very clear that she was giving her stump speech on the issues in a state House campaign,” he said, adding that the release was intended to question whether Democrats were promoting such comments at a “candidate school.”
Both Brandon Puttbrese, spokesman for the state party, and Matheson said that was not the case.
“I attended the candidate school, all three days, and there was never, ever anything like that,” said Matheson. “The issue here is morality or honesty. They went out of their way to try to smear me for something I did not do.”