Bill Haslam, Tennessee’s Republican governor, talked up GOP political accomplishments at the state party’s annual fundraising gala in Nashville over the weekend. In particular, the former Knoxville mayor extolled devotion to fiscal conservatism and dedication to downsizing state bureaucracies, which he said his administration and the supermajority-controlled General Assembly share.
GOP lawmakers and his Republican administration “have actually cut taxes,” said the governor during his speech at the annual Statesmen’s Dinner. And over the same period, state government has socked away more than double the cash reserves in its rainy-day fund, Haslam told the 1,500 or so GOP activists, elected leaders and bankrollers gather at the Music City Center for the event.
“We have the lowest debt, per person, of any of the 50 states,” said the governor. “We have a budget that keeps getting better. Some people like to talk about small government. In Tennessee, we actually are making ours smaller. We are literally a smaller state government than when we came in four and a half years ago.”
Haslam credited Republican governance for enabling creation of “275,000 net new jobs — private-sector jobs — since (his administration) came in four and a half years ago.”
“The unemployment rate is the lowest it has been in seven years, and it is going to keep going down,” said the governor. Haslam added that he’s confident in such a prediction because of education reforms the state has implemented during his tenure.
“We are the only state in the country where every high school senior is guaranteed two years of community college, and every adult period is guaranteed free technical school so that they can prepare for the career of their choice,” said Haslam, referring to his “Tennessee Promise” program that the General Assembly approved last year.
Haslam went on to introduce the event’s keynote speaker, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whom Tennessee’s chief executive described as “thinking about considering the possibility of running for president.”
The theme for TNGOP’s Statesmen’s Dinner, which raised a reported $600,000, was “Time to Rise.” Bush runs a super PAC called “Right to Rise.”
Haslam didn’t indicate whether he favor Bush over the rest of the GOP primary field, but he did suggest Bush is at least “qualified” to be Leader of the Free World.
“Governor Bush literally was one of the best governors that I can say of the last two decades — it is hard for me to go back further than that,” Haslam said. “But you can look at his record. Look at what he did with the state budget, in terms of really producing a conservative budget for eight years in a row. You can look at the job growth that happened in Florida that became sort of the envy of everybody during that time period.”
Haslam described the Sunshine State during and after Bush’s two gubernatorial terms from 1999 to 2007 as “one of he few states where the education results really did drastically improve, providing a better future for the citizens of Florida.”
“I have obviously been impressed with his record. But I am even more impressed with who he is as a person, who he is as a husband and a father and as a member of his community,” Haslam said.
Upon taking the stage, Bush hailed the gains GOP politicians have made in the Volunteer State over the past decade.
“It’s great to be in Tennessee, a place where Republicans win and win and win and win again,” said Bush.
In his his first big speech since becoming the TNGOP’s chairman, former Knoxville state Rep. Ryan Haynes lauded the event’s attendees for understanding that “we have to make this party even stronger than it is.” Haynes implored Republicans to “rise up and defeat Hillary Clinton in 2016,” and added that “no prize looms larger than that of the White House.”
“She has to be stopped,” he said. “We have to rise up and put an end to an old way of doing business — or as I like to call it, ‘Barack Obama 2.0.'”
“We have the Congress, we have the General Assembly, and we’ve got legislatures all across this country,” he continued. “But without the presidency, we don’t set the national agenda.”