Democrats are crying foul over Tennessee Republican Party mailers attacking two East Tennessee Democratic legislative candidates.
A direct mail piece targeting former state Rep. Eddie Yokley, who is opposing incumbent Republican Rep. David Hawk of Greeneville, charges that the Democrat “supported taxpayer funding of abortions” in a 2009 House floor vote.
“You thought you knew Eddie Yokley, but Eddie says one thing in Greene County and does something different in Nashville,” declares the mailer. It includes a black-and-white photo of Yokley with a grim expression on his face and a copy of the printed roll call vote on HB1756 with his name circled under the list of those voting no.
“This is shameless and too far,” said Brandon Puttbrese, communications director for the Tennessee Democratic Party. “Would these pathetic politicians rather see young women and children die from preventable diseases than see Eddie Yokley in the state House?”
The bill in question was aimed at Planned Parenthood from receiving funding for providing “women’s health services” in Shelby and Davidson counties. The services provided under those contracts included contraception along with disease treatment and prevention, but did not include abortions.
As Puttbrese noted, taxpayer funding of abortions is otherwise prohibited by Tennessee law and has been for years.
Thus, he said the vote was not to support taxpayer funding of abortions as claimed by the Republican mailer. The bill has been cited in other Republican mailer attacks on Democrats, though the wording is different and does not directly claim the Democrat supported taxpayer funding of abortions.
On targeting Rep. Charles Curtiss, D-Sparta, declares:
“Charlie Curtiss voted to send our tax dollars to the largest abortion provider in America,” says a line in the GOP mailer that also declares Curtis “just another Obama liberal.”
Planned Parenthood does provide abortions, but says that funding has no relation to the women’s health services programs.
During legislative debate, Republican supporters argued that funding for the women’s health services — while not going directly to abortions — could indirectly benefit the abortion program of Planned Parenthood.
Adam Nickas, executive director of the Tennessee Republican Party, said there is nothing wrong with the claim.
“Eddie Yokley had an opportunity to vote to defund Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest provider of abortions, but chose not to,” Nickas said in an email. “We’re not surprised Eddie Yokley is trying to squirm his way out of this one. We stand by our statement.”
Nickas, however, acknowledges an error in a mailer attacking former Rep. Jim Hackworth, who is opposing Republican Rep. John Ragan of Oak Ridge. But he says it’s not substantive.
Under a headline declaring Hackworth and Barack Obama are “trying to bring down the economy together” is a list of declared Hackworth misdeeds including: “Voted for a job-killing bill that increased taxes on family owned businesses.”
The mailer says in the fine print that this is based on Hackworth’s vote as a lawmaker on SB2846 in 2002. Sean Braisted, a spokesman for the Democratic Party, points out that Hackworth was not even serving in the Legislature in 2002, therefore could not possibly have voted on the bill one way or the other.
Nickas conceded the point in an interview. The party cited the wrong bill, he said, and should have instead referred to a bill four years later — when Hackworth was a representative. But he said “the claim is true,” even though the reference to the bill is not.
The correct reference, Nickas said, was to a bill pushed by the administration of then-Gov. Phil Bredesen in 2009 to repeal what the governor views as a “loophole” in state tax law that allowed “family-owned noncorporate entities” — known by the acronym FONCE — an exemption from paying taxes on commercial real estate properties.