Page 56 - Cityview May-June 2017
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Gov. Bill Haslam: Political Options, but the Air
Is Thin
G O V . B I L L H A S L A M isn’t ruling out a U.S. Senate race somewhere down the political road.
He isn’t ruling one in, either. Yet. But if he wants to stay in elected office he doesn’t have many options. As with oxygen, the political options tend to thin the higher one goes.
Haslam has been a popular governor. Last May, Morning Consult, a non- partisan digital media and research company, pegged Haslam’s approval rating at 62 percent among registered voters it surveyed, just a one-point difference from 2015.
With a fortune estimated at $2 billion, Haslam—tabbed in Feb. 2015 by Forbes magazine as the “richest politician in America”—could be doing something other than dealing with the Tennessee General Assembly or potentially diving into Washington’s political swamp.
Nevertheless, he’s gone from Knox- ville mayor to Tennessee governor.
Realistically, he has only three political landing sites: (apart from an appoint- ment to a senior federal position): U.S. senator, vice-president, or president.
If Bob Corker or Lamar Alexander step away from their U.S. Senate seats, Haslam is positioned.
He certainly has plusses, chief of which is his aforementioned fortune, particularly in a senate race. Haslam could self-fund a campaign. In politics money doesn’t talk: it yells, screams, jumps up and down, and can intimidate the stuffing out of a Thanksgiving turkey.
But if there’s one thing about which Haslam doesn’t like to talk, it’s money. One of his first acts after taking office
in Jan. 2011 as governor was, as the Associated Press reported, disclosure- related: “NASHVILLE — Gov. Bill Haslam on Saturday signed an executive order that eliminates requirements for the governor and top aides to disclose how much they earn in outside income.”
Haslam’s argument is that essentially everyone knows he’s rich and to reveal too much about his finances would affect other members of the Haslam family. The governor’s father, Jim Haslam, founder of Pilot Corporation, is Knoxville’s biggest business and philanthropy name. The governor’s brother, Jimmy Haslam, is CEO of what is today Pilot Flying J, north America’s largest travel center and travel plaza operator, and owner of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns. The family doesn’t lack for discretionary income.
Haslam’s elections show that Tennessee voters aren’t grumpy about how rich he is or that he won’t share details. Therefore, money isn’t a harmful factor in a senate race.
But adhering to such a close-mouthed policy would make things messy were he to reach for one of the country’s two top jobs. The news media would pound the easygoing governor over his financial
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