bill haslam

Haslam talks about Senate race, Gov. Lee, and UT in wide-ranging interview

Former Gov. Bill Haslam has tackled a wide variety of issues in one of his first extensive interviews since deciding against running for the U.S. Senate. In his sit-down with WBIR-TV in Knoxville, Haslam discusses how he came to that decision, as well as about his successor Bill Lee’s performance through the first six months of his time as governor, the ongoing saga surrounding the honoring of Confederate general and early Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest, and Randy Boyd’s job as interim president of the University of Tennessee.

Take a look here:

Haslam announces he won’t run for Senate

Gov. Bill Haslam speaks at an event at the Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville on Aug. 28, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Former Gov. Bill Haslam has decided against running for the U.S. Senate, according to a letter submitted to Tennessee Gannett newspapers.

Haslam said he came to the realization that following in the Senate footsteps of his mentors Lamar Alexander and Howard Baker was “not my calling fo the next period of my life.”

“Since leaving office in January, I have wrestled with the possibility of running for the United States Senate,” Haslam wrote in the letter. “I want to thank everyone who has encouraged me and helped me think and pray about this decision.”

“I also apologize to all those who think it has taken me an exceedingly long time to make up my mind!” he said.

The decision throws open the doors to a contested Republican primary. Vanderbilt surgeon Manny Sethi is already in the race. Other potential candidates include U.S. Reps Mark Green and David Kustoff and U.S. Ambassador Bill Hagerty. Others could give the race a fresh look with Haslam on the sidelines, including two failed gubernatorial candidates from the last cycle: former U.S. Rep. Diane Black and interim UT President Randy Boyd.

UPDATE: Black is out. So is Green. Kustoff still considering.

Haslam to decide on Senate bid within 3 weeks

Former Gov. Bill Haslam (right) and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander attend the state Republican Party’s annual Statesmen’s Dinner in Nashville on June 15, 2019.

Republican Bill Haslam plans to make up his mind about a U.S. Senate bid within the next two or three weeks, the former governor told reporters at the state GOP’s annual Statesmen’s Dinner fundraiser.

Haslam said it’s been his intention to decide about whether to make a bid to succeed U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) within six months of leaving the governor’s office.

The former governor sat a table alongside Alexander, junior Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood), and U.S. Ambassador Bill Hagerty.

Hagerty would be expected to give the race some serious consideration if Haslam doesn’t run. U.S. Rep. Mark Green (R-Ashland City) is also mulling a campaign. Surgeon Manny Sethi of Nashville announced his candidacy earlier this month.

Haslam said he enjoyed being back in political circles.

“I loved the job, and when you come back and see a lot of people you haven’t seen, you miss that,” he said. “But being a private citizen has its upsides, too.”

Devaney, Gehrke to head up Sethi’s campaign team

The timing of physician Manny Sethi’s announcement that he plans to run for the Republican nomination to succeed U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) caught many political observers off guard because most had been waiting to hear what former Gov. Bill Haslam planned to do on the race.

But Sethi and his team apparently ran out of patience and decided to pull the trigger, using “outsider” themes echoing those made by similarly little-known Bill Lee when the latter was making surprise march toward the governor’s office last year.

So it may come as little surprise that a Lee consultant, Jordan Gehrke, is reprising that role for the Sethi campaign. Chris Devaney, a former state Republican Party chairman who served as Lee’s campaign manager, has agreed to run the day-to-day operations of the Sethi campaign. Devaney had been working as a senior adviser to the Lee administration.

Fred Davis, who produced Lee’s TV ads during the governor’s race, has been in talks with the Sethi camp, but is believed to be awaiting word about Haslam’s intentions before taking the plunge. Davis did the advertising for Haslam’s 2010 governor’s bid.

Gehrke and Blake Harris were the general consultants for Lee’s gubernatorial bid. Harris now serves as the governor’s chief of staff.

Club for Growth launches website targeting Haslam

Gov. Bill Haslam gives his farewell address before the inauguration ceremony for Gov. Bill Lee in Nashville on Jan. 19, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Club for Growth, a conservative Super PAC, is taking aim at former Gov. Bill Haslam’s potential candidacy for the U.S. Senate. The Knoxville Republican is expected to make a decision about whether to run this spring.

The group has expressed support for U.S. Rep. Mark Green (R-Ashland City) to jump into the race to succeed Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) next year. Club for Growth agitated on Republican Marsha Blackburn’s behalf in her successful bid for the Senate last year.

“Deciding to run for the United States Senate would be different than deciding if I am going to go work for this bank or that insurance company or whatever,” Haslam said a Freed-Hardeman University forum last week.  “At the end of the day, for all of us, it’s about where can we be the most useful. Where can our gifts and the world’s needs intersect.”

The Club for Growth ad and the related DirtyBillHaslam.com website take aim over the scandal at the Pilot Flying J truck stop chain controlled by the former governor and his family.

“Governor, don’t run,” Club for Growth Action President David McIntosh said in a release. “You have a legacy as governor and clearly don’t have the fire in the belly nor desire to serve in the U.S. Senate.”

Haslam grants final set of 20 pardons, 3 commutations

Gov. Bill Haslam delivers his final State of the State address on Jan. 29, 2018 in Nashville. (Photo credit: Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Haslam has granted his final set of clemency orders, issuing 20 pardons and three commutations. That brings his total to of nine commutations, 35 pardons, and one exoneration before he leaves office on Saturday.

Here is the full release from the governor’s office:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today granted executive clemency to 23 current or former Tennesseans.

“These individuals receiving pardons have made positive contributions to their communities and are worthy of the forgiveness that may help them restore their rights or obtain employment. Those receiving commutations will gain another chance to become contributing members of society,” Haslam said.  “Clemency requires attempting to balance mercy and justice, and my legal team and I have taken this responsibility seriously during a thorough review of many cases.”

Continue reading

Green to host swearing-in fundraiser featuring Lee, legislative leaders

It’s never too soon to start raising money. Especially in newly-elected U.S. Rep. Mark Green’s case, given that he’s made no great secret about mulling a bid to succeed Sen. Lamar Alexander in 2020.

Green is holding a fundraiser “celebrating the swearing-in” of the congressman on Jan. 23 — 20 days after he was actually sworn in. Also attending are Gov.-elect Bill Lee, Senate Speaker Randy McNally, House Speaker Glen Casada, and Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson.

It will be interesting to see whether any of those legislative leaders distance themselves from Green if term-limited Gov. Bill Haslam decides to jump into the Senate race.

Volkswagen chooses Chattanooga for electric vehicle production

Volkswagen has chosen its lone U.S. assembly plant in Chattanooga to build electric vehicles for the North American market. The German automaker said it will invest $800 million and create 1,000 jobs. The first electric vehicle is schedule to be produced in Chattanooga by 2022.

Here is a release from Gov. Bill Haslam’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe along with Volkswagen AG announced today that Chattanooga will be home to the company’s first electric vehicle manufacturing facility in North America.

The project represents an investment of $800 million by Volkswagen and the creation of 1,000 jobs in Hamilton County.

“The shift toward electric vehicles is a trend that can be seen worldwide, and Volkswagen’s decision to locate its first North American EV manufacturing facility in Chattanooga underscores Tennessee’s manufacturing strength and highly-skilled workforce,” Haslam said. “As one of Hamilton County’s top employers, these additional 1,000 jobs will have a lasting impact on the region. I thank Volkswagen for its partnership and also applaud the company for its ongoing commitment to education and workforce alignment, which helps Tennessee build a pipeline of talent for years to come.”

Continue reading

Democrat Mackler to run for Senate in 2020

Democrat James Mackler, who was pushed out of the Senate race in December 2017 by former Gov. Phil Bredesen’s entry into the race, tells Jonathan Mattise of The Associated Press he plans to run the Senate again in 2020.

An announcement video suggests Mackler will run on an anti-Trump platform. “The 46-year-old says he’s not a politician and President Donald Trump is making life harder across Tennessee, citing health care, the tax law and the trade war,” according to the AP report.

Mackler is the first candidate to say he will run for the seat being vacated by U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville). Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has said he will decide about whether to mount a bid in the coming months, while newly-elected U.S. Rep. Mark Greene (R-Ashland City) has also been telling donors about potential plans to run.

 

TNJ interview: Haslam discusses Cyntoia Brown decision

Gov. Bill Haslam announces on Nov. 13, 2018, that Amazon will locate its East Coast logistics hub in Nashville. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam in an interview with The Tennessee Journal on Monday discussed how he came to the decision to grant clemency to Cyntoia Brown, who will be released from prison after serving 15 years in August. Brown was sentenced to life in prison for a murder committed as a 16-year-old in 2004, after she had run away from home. She has said she acted in self-defense in shooting the man after she was forced into prostitution. Haslam said celebrity attention to the case led to his office receiving 100,000 calls from Brown’s supporters.

TNJ: How did you arrive at this decision?

Haslam: We have a lot of pardon and clemency requests in front of us, that’s really what I’m spending the majority of my last two weeks doing. So we wanted to be thorough on it. And No. 2, I think the thing that was so unusual about this was that, because it got such an extraordinary amount of publicity, we wanted to make certain we didn’t treat it any better or worse than any other case. We ended up getting 100,000 phone calls, which I think is the most that we’ve gotten on any issue. But while obviously that’s how democracy works, you don’t want to make decisions based on how many phone calls you get. So we wanted to set all that aside and say, what’s the right thing to do in this case? And in this case, it meant talking to everybody from her lawyers, to people who had been involved with her while she was in prison, to counselors who knew her, to try to make certain we were making the best decision.

TNJ: You had various options, you could have said she could have served 15, 20, 25 years or whatever amount of time.

Haslam: We thought about it a lot, and the governor does have incredible powers. You could say, I want her to be out in 15 minutes, or anything. I think you start out with, what’s the right thing to do, and what’s the best thing in her situation. For us, it was 15 years. A lot of people said, if that had happened today, she would have gotten 2nd degree, which would have been 15 to 25 years. And so that was one of the motivations of saying 15 years with 10 years’ probation.

TNJ: With all the celebrity attention, did that make it uncomfortable?

Haslam: There was so many cases that need that kind of review. But so many people follow Kim Kardashian, that if she tweets out ‘call the governor,’ we’re going to get a lot of phone calls. Or if it’s Rihanna, or Snoop Dogg, or whoever. For us it meant an added level of, let’s make certain we’re doing the right thing. And not penalizing because we had all these people calling us — we literally had people who couldn’t call here to get their TennCare dealt with because our phone lines were so full. So you don’t want to penalize her for that, but nor do you want to treat her any more special because 100,000 people called.

TNJ: Do you think there will be a political price to pay if you decide to run for the U.S. Senate in 2020?

Haslam: I honestly don’t know. Obviously there’s a lot of people who think it’s the greatest thing ever and some people who will be upset. I think you’ve got to shove all that aside. It’s part of why, when Corker’s seat came up, I said it’s just not right. Because I didn’t want to spend my last year-and-a-half as governor running for the Senate, and you couldn’t help but let things affect you. And that’s really why I said on this one, I’m not going to spend a lot of time thinking about it until we get out of here.