We had a feeling this was going to happen.
With early voting for the May 3 primary underway, three-way debates, and no public polls showing a lead for any of the three Republican candidates for Hamilton County mayor, we felt that one of the three candidates – or a group associated with one of them – would become negative.
Sure enough, in the mailbox on Wednesday, the postman slipped an oversized letter describing former home improvement company owner Matt Hullander as a criminal for being “prosecuted multiple times for paying illegal wages,” “admitting to having violated [the] Fair Labor Standards Act” and selling his “business in legal action.”
Meanwhile, WGOW radio listeners were hearing a spot accusing Hamilton County Commissioner Sabrena Smedley of being a hidden radical who sided with ‘liberal teachers’ unions’ who had supported classroom masking , teaching “gender in the classroom rather than at home” and espousing critical race theory.
“Sabrena would turn our children over to woke liberal activists,” the spot said.
In Hullander’s case, the ad tells an incomplete story at best, and in Smedley’s, the ad is laughable trying to get an endorsement from the Hamilton County Education Association Fund for Children and Public Education – which doesn’t is not the teachers’ union itself – means it supports specific things that some teachers across the country support.
The culprit in both cases was a political action committee called Chattanoogans for Responsible Government. It was created on April 1, according to a financial disclosure listed on the Hamilton County Election Commission website. Its treasurer’s name is Adam Boeselager and it lists Jacob T. Hutcherson as an officer.
Once we found this information, we rushed to the lists of campaign contributors for the three mayoral candidates. Both names were not listed as giving to Hullander, and they were not listed as giving to Smedley, but they were listed as giving to the third candidate, entrepreneur Weston Wamp.
(READ MORE: Group blasts Hullander, Smedley as Hamilton County mayor’s campaign turns negative)
In the January filing, Boeselager, whose workplace was listed as Legacybox, and his wife both donated the maximum possible amount, $1,600, to the Wamp campaign. In the same list was a $500 contribution from Hutcherson, who was on the list of independent recruiters.
Contributions to candidates, political action committees and negative publicity against other candidates are not against the law. But it was interesting to see which candidate the individuals were associated with.
Wamp, as expected, said he had nothing to do with the ads. He told that paper’s economics editor, Dave Flessner, that his campaign “definitely hasn’t gone negative,” that he’s “running a substantive campaign focused on educating about the future of our county,” and that he is “legally prohibited from participating in an outside group.”
We remember well eight years ago, however, when what was done to Hullander and Smedley was done to Wamp. We had backed Wamp in the Republican congressional primary against incumbent U.S. Representative Chuck Fleischmann, and days before the primary election in August, Fleischmann’s campaign sent out fliers depicting Wamp – through photo manipulation – burning a passport with the words “Weston Wamp supports amnesty for illegal immigrants.”
Another Fleischmann ad in the same campaign used more of Wamp’s words allegedly supporting these illegal immigrants, but did not use the more critical words he spoke about them in the same speech.
Back in 2014, we called ads by their name: “downright dishonest.”
We suggest Wamp ask Chattanoogans for Responsible Government and its contributors to stop radio ads and mail because of their dishonesty, but, as we said in 2014, “the voters can’t ignore something they’ve already seen in their email” (or stop hearing what they’ve already heard on the radio).
A 2014 Facebook post by Boeselager on one such negative Wamp ad read: “Unbelievable that Congressman Fleishman endorses, spends his own campaign money and sends this article to the district. It’s dirty politics. at his best – photoshopping Weston Wamp and intentionally misquoting him to make it seem like he has a position he doesn’t support It’s time for a change in Washington.
Commenting on the anti-Hullander and anti-Smedley ads on Wednesday, he told the paper: “In a race sorely lacking in depth, we wanted to bring transparency to important matters. If a mayoral candidate cannot stand public scrutiny, he probably wouldn’t make a very good mayor.”
Definitely a change of tone.
Late Wednesday, the head of a local organization phoned us to let off steam. His mailbox had been filled with Chattanoogans for Responsible Government flyers against Hullander and Smedley, and he was angry. He had stayed out of the race, but he had something to say.
We paraphrase him, but believe he spoke on behalf of many like-minded Hamilton County residents who did not want to see the mayoral race go down to this level.
The country is fed up, he said in essence. This is what separates us.
Back in 2014, we said, “That’s actually why so many people turned away from politics altogether.”
We echo this today.