published Thursday, June 5th, 2014

Van Hilleary honorary chairman of Jim Tracy campaign for Congress

  • photo
    Van Hilleary speaks to Chattanooga Times Free Press reporters.
    Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

NASHVILLE — Former Congressman Van Hilleary will be Republican Jim Tracy’s honorary campaign chairman in Tracy’s 4th Congressional District GOP primary challenge to U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais.

Tracy is expected to name Hilleary, a native of Rhea County, to the post today at 10 a.m. on the steps of the Rhea County Courthouse.

“I’ve known Jim and his wife Trena for many years, and have always been impressed with their integrity, their friendly and approachable nature, and their sincerely held conservative values,” Hilleary said in a statement. “I can say without reservation that Jim Tracy is the type of strong and effective conservative leader we need in Congress to get our country back on the right track.”

Hilleary, formerly of Spring City, represented the 4th Congressional District from 1995 to 2003.

Tracy said he is “honored” to have Hilleary on his campaign team.

“I appreciate the confidence that he has placed in my conservative principles. Van understands what it takes to represent the 4th Congressional District with trust and Tennessee values.”

The latter comment is an apparent dig at DesJarlais, a South Pittsburg physician and two-term congressman who says he is against abortion.

However, his political future has been jeopardized by 2012 campaign revelations and documents from his 2001 divorce. They show he supported his former wife’s decision to have two abortions and that he once urged a patient with whom he had an affir to get an abortion.

DesJarlais says he is a changed man since then, religious and happily remarried.

Still, Tracy has far outdistanced the congressman in fundraising and analysts and Tennessee-based political operatives say DesJarlais has a difficult path.

But some local tea party and other conservative groups are sticking by DesJarlais. The district stretches from East Tennessee west to Rutherford County near Nashville, which was added in 2012 congressional redistricting.

The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville reported that Lou Ann Zelenik, a tea party activist who lived in Murfreesboro and who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2010 and 2012, is working on DesJarlais’ behalf.

Hilleary lived in Spring City while he served in the U.S. House but moved to Murfreesboro following unsuccessful bids for governor and U.S. Senate.

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at or 615-255-0550.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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