Embattled state Rep. Todd Warner and his former opponent, ex-Rep. Rick Tillis, are going at each other in a social media fight as the Aug. 4 election nears.
Warner, who has been under investigation by the FBI since early 2021, sent out a text message blast recently telling constituents in House District 92 they would be receiving "negative" mailers for the next two weeks from his opposition in the House race. He is running against Spring Hill Alderman Matt Fitterer and Jeff Ford, a former Williamson County commissioner, in the Republican primary.
"These attacks are orchestrated in conjunction with career politicians and big-money lobbyists in Nashville that are doing all they can, including lying, to knock out a TRUE conservative," Warner said. "And, while my opponents continue their desperate attempts to hurt my family based on dishonesty and slander while hiding in the shadows, I am out here meeting with voters and working for YOU."
Warner, a Chapel Hill Republican, claims the attacks stem from the 2020 race when he beat Tillis, an incumbent from Lewisburg.
"The bottom line is simple: I defeated the brother of a sitting U.S. Senator and favors were called in afterwards to try to hurt my family. I have done absolutely nothing wrong and I stand by that statement fully and firmly," Warner said.
Warner won with the help of former House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) and his ex-chief of staff, Cade Cothren, who is believed to be running an Alabama-based campaign company called Dixieland Strategies, which did work for Warner two years ago and continues to produce campaign literature for him this year.
Warner said he stuck with Dixieland because the firm did a "good job."
Cothren, Casada and Warner were raided by the FBI in January 2021 and still are believed to be under investigation. The federal government already obtained a conviction of former Rep. Robin Smith (R-Hixson), who pleaded guilty to running a kickback scheme with Phoenix Strategies, a New Mexico-based vendor that did business with House Republicans, including taxpayer-funded constituent mailers, and made payments to Smith and Casada. Cothren ran that company, too, according to federal documents.
The Tennessee Registry of Election Finance is having the Williamson County District Attorney's office investigate a separate matter in which the political action committee, Faith, Family Freedom Fund, allegedly coordinated with Warner's campaign, a violation of election law. Cothren also ran that political action committee, according to testimony of a former girlfriend who formed the PAC.
Tillis, who stepped down as House Republican Caucus whip after it was revealed he was behind an anonymous Twitter feed critical of Casada, has been relatively quiet over the past two years.
Tillis, who used an expletive when referring to Warner in a recent tweet, said in a social media statement he had not gotten involved in the race other than mentioning he is supporting Ford but noted he is changing his stance because Warner took a shot at him and his brother, Republican U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, of North Carolina.
"Warner has accused Thom of using his office to initiate an FBI investigation on him, nothing could be further from the truth! It would be illegal too! Furthermore, Warner claims my brother is attempting (to) harm his family, ridiculous!" he said.
Tillis said the FBI won't start an investigation unless the agency has "credible evidence." He noted Warner's home, business and legislative office were searched before he was sworn in as a House member.
"The investigation is ongoing," Tillis said, adding Smith resigned and is cooperating with the Department of Justice, with sentencing set for October. "We will see what she has to share," he said.
He contended Warner has been "whining about the attacks" on him and his family even though nobody in his family has been mentioned in a political ad.
"Listen, you run for office expecting to get attacked, it comes with the territory," Tillis said.
Warner repeatedly declined to be interviewed by the Tennessee Lookout this year about the FBI investigation, saying his attorney advised him not to speak.
Read more at TennesseeLookout.com.