Shelby GOP’s Lincoln Day dinner headliner Friday night was none other than the Governor himself. Before the program, Bill Haslam schmoozed easily with Memphians, stopping to have his picture taken and shaking hands. He had an ease about him that wasn’t as visible during the campaign.
Perhaps that is because he has settled comfortably into the governor’s office. The state is doing well and there is even talk about a Haslam presidential run in the future. The ease with which he comported himself suggests that could occur.
State Senator Mark Norris, the majority leader, introduced the governor. Norris expanded on Tennessee’s recent successes: Barron’s named us the third best managed state in the union; we’re in the top ten of most lists for best competitive state for business; the fourth lowest in debt; one of the freest states in the union. As he took the podium Haslam quipped, “I’m Bill Haslam and I approve this message.”
Haslam then thanked the Shelby GOP officers and remarked that he had made his pilgrimage to one of Memphis’ most important events, the BBQ contest. He then expressed his joy that the Grizzlies had won the last game against Oklahoma, avoiding another game that would have conflicted with his appearance. “If they hadn’t won, I’d be here talking just to Chrissie,” he said. Chrissie, his wife and a former Memphian, was cheering the Grizzlies, too. “Wait, she said she’d be watching it, too, so I guess I’d be speaking alone,” he chuckled.
Haslam proceeded to tell us how much “life changes when you become governor,” relating how he saw a tour bus stop in front of the Nashville mansion. He assumed they were there to look at a country music star’s home in the neighborhood. Then it dawned on him they were looking at the governor’s house. “I hope they didn’t see me on the balcony in my pajamas,” he laughed.
Turning to the serious, Haslam talked about attending a recent governors conference. He spoke with others who also enjoyed Republican majorities in their states. “In Tennessee, seven of nine congressional districts are Republican. We have a 26-7 advantage in the state Senate. It’s 70-29 in the House.” Haslam said “we talked about how unique it is and how we should not waste the opportunity.”
He concluded “we should not be cocky and at the end of the day it’s about results.”
The results he’s had so far are impressive.
“CEO magazine asked 750 CEOs to rate the best business states. Tennessee was fourth…When I came into office a lot of the stimulus money had run out. Some people suggested we raise taxes. We didn’t. We’ve not borrowed money at a high interest rate and we’ve kept our AAA rating.
“In Tennessee we’ve remained strong in education. We haven’t cut spending. We’ve had the second largest increase in spending in public education. We’ve had the largest gains in achievement tests in the state’s history. In business we need a trained work force. We want to bring jobs and business tells us we need that education.”
Addressing the national scene, Haslam had ideas for the Republican party. “What is the answer nationally for Republicans? First, nothing shows like success. Second, we must hone our message that we understand what Americans want. Last, we need to get better at winning elections.”
Finally, Haslam had a message for Republicans discouraged by the 2012 election. “Tennessee is part of a bigger message. People are worried about what’s going on in Washington, but there is a lot of good being done in Tennessee. If we keep doing well here, we’ll show how it’s done. It matters.”