Van Hilleary

Van Hilleary
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Tennessee's 4th district
In office
January 3, 1995  January 3, 2003
Preceded by Jim Cooper
Succeeded by Lincoln Davis
Personal details
Born (1959-06-20) June 20, 1959
Dayton, Tennessee, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Meredith Hilleary
Alma mater University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Samford University
Religion Presbyterianism

William Vanderpool Hilleary, usually known as Van Hilleary (born June 20, 1959) is a Republican politician from Tennessee.

Early life and career

Hilleary was born in Dayton, Tennessee, the seat of Rhea County, and raised in nearby Spring City, where his family operated a textile manufacturing concern. He graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1981. He participated in the Air Force ROTC program at the University of Tennessee and served on active duty from 1982 to 1984 and has been a member of the Air Force Reserve since that time. Hilleary graduated from the Cumberland School of Law of Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama in 1990. He served two volunteer tours of duty during Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. While in the Gulf War, Hilleary flew 24 missions as a navigator on C-130 aircraft.

U.S. House of Representatives

Following his return from the Middle East, he entered a race for the Tennessee State Senate in 1992. His opponent was Anna Belle Clement O'Brien, younger sister and political confidante of the late former governor of Tennessee Frank G. Clement. While Hilleary was defeated, he ran such a competitive race that he was recruited to enter the Republican primary in 1994 for the Fourth Congressional District. This seat was coming open as the incumbent, six-term Democrat Jim Cooper, was running for the United States Senate. Hilleary easily won the Republican primary and faced Democratic nominee Jeff Whorley, a former aide to Cooper, in the general election. It was the first serious effort the Republicans had made in the district since its creation after the 1980 census. Hilleary won by a 14-point margin. Even allowing for the massive Republican tide that swept through the state that year, Hilleary's convincing win came as something of a surprise.

On paper, the 4th District was one of the few districts in the country that was not safe for either party. It stretched from the Virginia border in East Tennessee to the Mississippi border in Middle Tennessee. Prior to Cooper's election in 1982, much of the district's eastern portion hadn't been represented by a Democrat since before the Civil War. However, its configuration made it very difficult to unseat an incumbent in a normal election year. Then as now, the district spills across five television markets (the Tri-Cities, Knoxville, Chattanooga, Nashville and Huntsville, Alabama) and two time zones. Frequently, advertising budgets in the 4th rival those for statewide races. Continuing this pattern, Hilleary was reelected three times from this district without much difficulty, and actually increased his margin each time; his 56 percent in 1994 would be the lowest margin of his congressional career. He even won easily in 1996 even as Bill Clinton carried the district in the presidential election mainly on the strength of Al Gore's presence on the ticket; Gore had represented much of the western portion of the district in Congress from 1977 to 1983.

Hilleary had a conservative voting record and was popular in conservative circles within his party. For instance, Hilleary was opposed to any form of a state income tax, which was a major issue in the state legislature at the time. In each of his three subsequent Congressional races, Hilleary won with an increasing margin. Due to the 4th's configuration, Hilleary also became known over a large portion of the state, making important associations with leading Republican activists. Hilleary was unusual for a politician of this period in his steadfast refusal to accept campaign contributions from political action committees (PAC's).

2002 Tennessee gubernatorial election

Hilleary was considered a logical choice for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2002, withstanding a challenge from the party's moderate wing made by Jim Henry, former minority leader in the Tennessee House of Representatives and former mayor of Kingston. Henry's race was largely supported and financed by members of the inner circle of unpopular outgoing GOP governor Don Sundquist, a fact resented by many grassroots activists, and Hilleary defeated him by a wide margin.

Hilleary's opponent in the general election was Phil Bredesen, a multimillionaire former mayor of Nashville. At first, Bredesen agreed to be bound by a relatively new Tennessee state law limiting the amount of money one could contribute to one's own campaign for elective office. However, the state attorney general subsequently issued an opinion that such a law was unconstitutional and hence unenforceable, as the United States Supreme Court had previously ruled a similar federal law with regard to federal campaigns. Faced with huge and potentially overwhelming resources against him, Hilleary reversed his previous position on PACs and began to actively solicit donations from them.

One of the major issues of the race was TennCare, the huge state-supported managed care program that had supplanted Medicaid in Tennessee. Hilleary displayed a high level of knowledge about this issue in a debate between the two, despite the fact that Bredesen had made most of his fortune as a managed health care executive. However, polling seemed to indicate that one of the major factors with public support of Bredesen was his knowledge of this issue. Bredesen was also a moderate Democrat; Republican charges against "ultra-liberal Democrats" could not be made to stick to him with any real degree of success. Another problem for Hilleary was that Bredesen showed himself able to raise support in East Tennessee (Hilleary's home region) far more readily than could previous Democratic candidates, especially considering that Bredesen was from Nashville. In addition, questions were raised regarding Hilleary's performance as a member of the House Budget Committee.

Hilleary nonetheless received over 48% of the vote. Bredesen defeated him largely by doing far better than expected in heavily Republican East Tennessee. For instance, Bredesen carried Knox County, the largest county in East Tennessee, by a few hundred votes; in contrast, George W. Bush won Knox County two years later by over 40,000 votes.


Shortly after the November 2004 election, Hilleary moved his family to Murfreesboro, just outside Nashville. He now lives there primarily on weekends and through the week is employed as a consultant in Washington, D.C.

According to a disclosure of personal finances from 2004 and part of 2005, as required by his 2006 Senate candidacy, Hilleary made $300,000 in salary in 2004 from Washington lobbying firm Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, and more than $150,000 in salary from the firm through August 12, 2005.

One of his clients was the Lumbee Indian Tribe of North Carolina, which is seeking federal status from Congress and $77 million in funding for education, health care and economic development that would come with recognition. The tribe was recognized in 1956, but was not awarded the same monetary benefits given to other American Indian groups. Another client was Pennsylvania House Speaker John M. Perzel. Other clients listed by Hilleary included the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the American Association of Diabetes Educators, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, Balfour Ventures, Federal-Mogul Corporation, L-3 Communications, SMS Holdings Corp. and VPI Technologies.

2006 Senate campaign

Hilleary was a candidate for the United States Senate seat then held by Senate Majority Leader Dr. Bill Frist, who did not run for re-election because he had promised not to serve more than two terms when first elected in 1994.

Despite over 80% name recognition, Hilleary placed a distant third with a mere 17% of the vote in the primary, behind Ed Bryant, who received 34% and winner Bob Corker, who won with a 48% plurality. Surprisingly, Hilleary lost 13 of the 22 counties in his own district. Hilleary endorsed Corker not long after he conceded the race.

Electoral history

Tennessee's 4th congressional district: Results 1994–2000[1]
Year Democrat Votes Pct Republican Votes Pct 3rd Party Party Votes Pct
1994 Jeff Whorley 60,489 42% Van Hilleary 81,539 57% J. Patrick Lyons Independent 1,944 1% *
1996 Mark Stewart 73,331 41% Van Hilleary 103,091 58% J. Patrick Lyons Independent 1,075 1% *
1998 Jerry W. Cooper 42,627 40% Van Hilleary 62,829 60% *
2000 David H. Dunaway 67,165 33% Van Hilleary 133,622 66% J. Patrick Lyons Independent 2,418 1% *

*Write-in and minor candidate notes: In 1994, write-ins received 4 votes. In 1996, Preston T. Spaulding received 561 votes and write-ins received 5 votes. In 1998, write-ins received 23 votes. In 2000, write-ins received 5 votes.


  1. "Election Statistics". Office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives. Retrieved 2008-01-10.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Van Hilleary.
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Jim Cooper
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Tennessee's 4th congressional district

Succeeded by
Lincoln Davis
Party political offices
Preceded by
Don Sundquist
Republican nominee for Governor of Tennessee
Succeeded by
Jim Bryson
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