Haslam Readies for Office

On January 14, 2011, in News 2011, by Mark Norris

Gov.-elect talks schools, biz issues on Memphis stop

By Bill Dries, MemphisDailyNews.com
Janary 14, 2011

Bill Haslam’s title will change from Tennessee governor-elect to governor when he takes the oath of office Saturday.

But before then he has traveled across the state, including a stop this week in Memphis where he toured the Memphis Bioworks Foundation and got a face full of questions from reporters about the schools standoff that could land on his new desk the day he takes office.

Haslam was in Memphis for the tour and a pre-inaugural reception at the Memphis Botanic Garden.

“We have a very vested interest,” Haslam said of the state’s possible and, some would argue, its inevitable role in the controversy.

In December, as the standoff between the two public school systems gathered momentum, Haslam said he hoped he wouldn’t have to get involved and that the controversy would be worked out locally.

He was still deferring to the possibility of such a solution this week. But he was also acknowledging his administration might be involved whether he wants to or not.

“If the city’s going to go out of the school business, let’s make sure that those kids in the city schools as well as the county schools are well served and well represented throughout that process,” he said.

Haslam had already been in touch with state Senate Republican Leader Mark Norris about the legislation Norris proposed hours earlier to slow down the consolidation move and require a countywide vote in any referendum. Haslam also appeared to be talking with Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell about reports of a compromise being worked on by the two school systems.

“Ultimately I think a court will get to decide who does get to vote on this,” he said as he commented on Norris’ proposal. “The part that talks about an orderly process – I think that we all agree that that’s in the best interest of the children of Shelby County.”

Haslam said how he reacts to a bill possibly awaiting his signature by Saturday would depend on what is in the bill.

There might be other factors.

He is a Republican governor with Republican majorities and leadership in the House and Senate.

A veto as one of the first acts of his administration would be an early test of a still-developing relationship.

Haslam gave no indication at all which way he might be leaning should the legislation pass.

But he will almost certainly weigh the impact not just on day-to-day education in the state but on the state’s role in national education reform. Haslam attributes the state’s $500 million in funding from the federal Race to the Top program to the success Memphis City Schools leaders had before that in winning $90 million over six to seven years from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for reforms in teacher training and evaluation.

“Shame on us if we waste this opportunity,” Haslam said of the state’s momentum on education reforms. It’s a point he said he will probably make again in Saturday’s inaugural address. “We’re moving in the right direction.”

State education commissioner is one of the few cabinet posts Haslam had not filled as of press time.

Haslam told his Memphis audience that he views education advances and economic development as inseparable.

He has said he considers job creation and “increasing economic capacity” in the state to be his chief mission with little time or money in the state coffers to venture into other policy areas.

Haslam has never spelled out those policy areas, but the comments come after a legislative session in which some Republican legislators including 2010 GOP primary rival and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey gave gun and immigration issues more prominence.

Ramsey’s primary campaign was heavy on such issues while Haslam and U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Chattanooga, talked more about the economy and jobs growth.

“The state of Tennessee really can’t go out and create jobs,” Haslam told a group of about 50 in the Bioworks auditorium this week.

“What we can do is this – we can find competitive advantages that we have in Tennessee. We can take those competitive advantages and lend the state’s resources and the state’s power to it to create jobs. We can’t do it ourselves.”

 

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