David Hawk and Eddie Yokley both say they have striven for civility in their Greene County competition for the right to represent citizens of House District 5, but political party powers in Nashville are pushing the campaign in a mean-spirited direction.
As of Friday, the Tennessee Republican Party had sent seven direct mail pieces into the district that Yokley says range from “terrible distortions” to “outright lies,” accusing the Democratic candidate of everything from “Chicago cronyism” to support for illegal immigrants and taxpayer-funded abortions. Hawk disavows them all.
The Tennessee Democratic Party last week sent voters in the district a direct mail piece outlining domestic violence charges that Hawk faces, which are adamantly denied by the Republican lawmaker. Hawk says it is “unfortunate that the Democrats have resorted to personal attacks.”
Yokley disavows the mailer, saying he and his local supporters have strictly avoided mention of allegations that Hawk attacked his wife. The charges against Hawk have been bound over to the Greene County grand jury. (Note: This has been corrected from the original post, which mistakenly said Hawk has been indicted.)
Still, both men say their party’s mailers are better than the other party’s attacks.
“At least the Democrats are truthful,” says Yokley, 60, of the party mailer reciting quotes from police reports on the alleged assault on Crystal Hawk and reproducing a police mug shot of the candidate.
“At least the Republicans are sticking with issues, not getting into personal attacks,” said Hawk, 44, of the GOP mailers, which in some cases cite votes taken by Yokley during previous terms as a state representative.
The Republican party perspective on the race may be illustrated by state GOP Chairman Chris Devaney, who last month appeared with Hawk at a meeting of the Greene County Republican Women in a show of support for the accused legislator. Hawk’s wife resigned in August as chairwoman of the group, according to the Greeneville Sun, which also reported on Devaney’s comments.
“We’re in a war, OK?” Devaney said. “Now, I know Eddie Yokley is a nice fellow. I know he is. He’s a jolly guy … and he probably knows all of you in this room.”
But, Devaney said, “We don’t vote for people because they’re a nice guy … We vote for people on the issues, and Eddie Yokley is not right on the issues.”
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner, meanwhile, says the Democratic mailer against Hawk was basically retaliation for the “nasty” Republican mailers unfairly attacking Yokley.
“You punch someone in the face long enough and you’re going to get punched back,” said Turner.
Both candidates say they are hopeful, based on talks with voters, that the negative party attacks are not working.
Hawk said he has had “dozens of voters” tell him they were undecided until receiving the Democratic mailer, which so upset them they are now backing the Republican. Yokley said people who know him — and that includes a lot of citizens who recall his prior terms as a legislator and, before that, his election as county property assessor — ignore the “fallacies and untruths” by simply tossing the mailers in the trash.
There are apparent differences on state issues.
Yokley, for example, says a bill authorizing for-profit “virtual schools” in Tennessee is “the biggest travesty I’ve seen come out of the Legislature” because it takes money from public schools. Hawk voted for the bill, which proponents say provides new educational opportunities for many students.
The Republican mailers cite several votes Yokley made as a lawmaker before being defeated in a bid for re-election in 2010 by Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, in District 11. Redistricting earlier this year left Yokley’s home out of Faison’s realigned district and put it into Hawk’s District 4.
Both districts are rated as leaning strongly to Republicans. Yokley was first elected to the House in 2002, defeating then Rep. Ronnie Davis, R-Newport, who at the time was under indictment on extortion and drug charges.
State and federal law both prohibit taxpayer funding of abortions. The vote cited was on a 2009 bill intended to block federal funds going to Planned Parenthood for women’s health services not involving abortions.
Yokley says he voted the same way as Hawk on some of the other votes that have brought Republican attacks. A cited example is a 2009 vote on a bill that repealed a law allowing persons without a Social Security number to get a Tennessee driver’s license and instead authorizing a “driver’s certificate.” Yokley and Hawk both voted yes on the final House roll call vote, though Yokley opposed some Republican-sponsored amendments that Hawk backed.
One GOP mailer has Yokley depicted as a costumed puppet with President Obama “pulling Eddie Yokley’s strings” and says the Democrat is supported by “union bosses” and “Chicago cronyism.”
Financial disclosures filed with the Registry of Election Finance show Yokley has received a total of $6,500 from union PACs — $5,000 from a group representing plumbers and pipe fitters, $1,000 from a firefighters union and $500 from a carpenters union. Total contributions to Yokley stood at about $30,000 at last report, Oct. 1, with most of the money coming in small amounts from area residents.
Yokley has reported spending of about $11,000 — not counting $10,700 the candidate spent himself. He had a cash on hand balance of $20,205.
Hawk, who defeated three opponents in the Aug. 2 Republican primary, has reported about $60,000 in contributions this year, most from political action committees and fellow Republican legislators. Among the largest is $3,600 from the Tennessee State Employees PAC, which Yokley said he took as “a slap in the face” because of his past support of state employees. Hawk still had $30,094 cash on hand as of Oct. 1.
Hawk has spent about $35,000 this year. The state GOP and the House Republican Party have further provided him with abut $18,000 worth of “in-kind” support. That does not include “independent expenditures” for the direct mail pieces, which Hawk says he does not have any control over.
Only one of the mailers attacking Yokley was reported on the state Republican Party’s Oct. 1 disclosure and it cost $6,261. The other GOP attack mailers — and the Democratic attack on Hawk — will presumably be listed on the next report due later this week.