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Ketron Receives Nat’l Security Award for Work to Prevent Homegrown Terrorism

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; September 11, 2014:

WASHINGTON, DC, September 11, 2014 – – State Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) will be awarded the National Security Eagle Award by ACT! for America at an event tonight in Washington DC. Ketron is set to receive the national honor at the organization’s fifth annual national conference which will be attended by members from 875 chapters from across the nation, in addition to 9-11 family members and American wounded warriors.

ACT! for America is the nation’s largest national security movement with over 280,000 active grassroots members from various political parties and religions. It is an issues advocacy organization dedicated to effectively organizing and mobilizing the most powerful grassroots citizen action network in America.

Ketron sponsored Tennessee’s “Material Support to Designated Entities Act of 2011” to cut off the support for terrorists who are planning to commit acts in Tennessee and curb the incidence of homegrown terrorism. He filed the bill in the wake of homegrown terrorist shootings at Fort Hood, Texas and Little Rock, Arkansas, which targeted U.S. soldiers.

Recently it was reported that as many as 300 Americans are fighting alongside ISIS, the most radical group of jihadists who claimed responsibility for the beheading of U.S. journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.

“Homegrown terrorism remains a tremendous threat to the U.S.,” said Senator Ketron. “Recent developments continue to show that this threat is not only real, but can happen in any state, any town and any community. I appreciate this recognition from ACT! and will continue to work for the safety and security of our citizens. The 13th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attack should continue to serve as a reminder to all Americans that we can never let our guard down as there are those who are willing to hide behind innocent citizens to reign down terror on this nation.”

Ketron will also attend a Wreath Laying Ceremony at the Pentagon’s 9-11 Memorial on Friday.

High-Ranking Uncertainty Over Amended ‘Homegrown Terrorism’ Bill

Top officials at the state’s homeland security office are unsure how a hotly contested plan to curb terrorism in Tennessee will affect the agency’s operations.

Under the plan, top state officials would have the power to brand people suspected of dabbling in terrorist-like activities as “terrorist entities” once the Office of Homeland Security and Department of Safety make that recommendation.

“I don’t fully understand the process that would be used for us to designate the person,” said Rick Shipkowski, the deputy director of the state’s homeland security office.

The official designation would come from a mutual decision between the governor and the attorney general. However, they would not be allowed to label anyone a “terrorist entity” without the blessing of both agencies. Neither department has taken a position on the bill.

The proposal has drawn a lot of attention on Capitol Hill. The plan was originally meant to target people practicing Sharia, a fundamental component of Islamic Code. Since then, lawmakers have revamped HB1353 to include anyone suspected of terrorism.

Anyone caught knowingly helping a possible terrorist — financially, legally, materially — would be charged with at least a Class B felony.

Sen. Bill Kentron, a key sponsor of the legislation, said he hasn’t spoken to the department about the effect his plan would have on the various agencies.

Right now, twenty percent of tips and reports about possible terrorist activity the state receives are unfounded and thrown out, Shipkowski said.

“I actually had someone tell me one time that a convenience store owner was suspicious because he was Middle Eastern and he smiled all the time. Well, you know, that’s not a crime in Tennessee, it’s good for business,” Shipkowski said.

Information the state receives is shared with the Tennessee Fusion Center, a facility jointly operated by the state Office of Homeland Security and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation with analysts from the departments of correction, probation and parole and military. The FBI and the US. Office of Homeland Security also play a role and create a total staff of 38 people at the Center.

The remaining 80 percent of cases are handed over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and are further explored there. Shipkowski declined to release the actual number of cases the office takes on, but said “very few” of those reports of possible terrorist activity ever prove legitimate.

Attempts to reach a spokesman with the FBI were unsuccessful Friday.

Shipkwoski said he doesn’t know exactly how or when his department would recommend the state label someone a terrorist given that the FBI traditionally does the heavy lifting in determining who fits the bill.

Here are excerpts from our interview with Shipkowski about HB1353 and how the state currently handles reports of possible terrorism:

TNReport: What specifically does your department do?

Shipkowski: The Office of Homeland Security is a part of the Department of Safety and Homeland Security, and our mission is to prevent terrorism in Tennessee and protect our citizens and the critical infrastructure within the state.

TNReport: What would change for your department if HB1353 passed?

Shipkowski: This bill and its companion bill, SB 1028, are very different from the original bill that was proposed, which was referred to as the “Sharia bill.” When it comes to terrorism, the lead investigative agency for the nation is the Federal Bureau of Investigation. So when we get reports of suspicious activities or indicators of material support for terrorism, we immediately turn that information over to the FBI which has the national perspective and has certainly access to information that Tennessee does not have. So this law, theoretically is another tool for us to use. We’ll still work very closely with the FBI with anything that we do.

TNReport: How do you know that someone is involved in terrorist activity?

Shipkowski: Let’s focus in on the bill you’re talking about which discusses material support to terrorism. We look at terrorism in two versions: You’ve got operational terrorism, which means you’ve got a group of adversaries that are prepared to conduct an attack against citizens or a facility. The other form is the material support to terrorism, and those are people that are providing money, equipment, safe places for our adversaries. So an awful lot of the material support for terrorism investigations start out as criminal investigations, money laundering, smuggling, human trafficking. It’s when we, along with the FBI, conduct the investigation and connect the dots and where we see maybe the funding is going to a country overseas, or a group overseas, and we can tie it as material support for terrorism. We look for suspicious activities that could indicate that somebody is perhaps conducting surveillance on a site, or trying to get information on a site, and we also look for the old classic follow the money to see where the money — often from criminal activities or could be as simple as revenue fraud — see where that’s going. That’s the foundation for material support for terrorism investigations.

TNReport: It sounds like the bulk of individuals that could possibly be subject to this legislation are people who have been charged with something else like money laundering. Is that accurate?

Shipkowski: There’s gotta be some preponderance of evidence… that these individuals or that these entities are involved in an activity that’s supporting terrorism, and many of those would be criminal activities. At the national level, when groups are designated as providing material support to terrorism, it’s some of these legitimate or not legitimate charities they’ve been able to document, or getting money through illicit means and sending them overseas to terrorism organizations. So there’s gotta be solid evidence, even at the national level before an individual or entity is designated as providing material support for terrorism. I mean, that’s a fairly serious charge, and one that we would never impose lightly in Tennessee.

TNReport: If this legislation were to go into effect, do you have your own internal list of potential terrorists that you’re following?

Shipkowski: No. Again, with the FBI being the lead agency in the nation for terrorism, whenever we have indications based on an arrest, or support, or a suspicious activity report that this may be tied to terrorism, we forward the information to the FBI, and the FBI decides whether it becomes an investigation, and they take it from there. They’ve got the national-level authority to conduct these investigations, and we just provide them information that we think maybe, maybe show indications of material support to terrorism in Tennessee. So we don’t conduct the actual terrorist investigations, the FBI does that.

TNReport: How does the public know these people are really involved in terrorist activity?

Shipkowski: We go to great pains to not violate any privacy laws and civil rights laws. We don’t profile individuals, we don’t look for Muslims. We look for suspicious activity and — along with our partners in the FBI — before someone is charged with material support to terrorism, a very serious charge, there’s gotta be very solid evidence to support that charge, as there would be for any crime. There’s a very deliberate due process throughout all these investigations from the moment John Q Citizen reports suspicious activity to us, until the activity is reported to us, and we vet the activity to try to determine if its valid. … If we get a report, we do a good job at the state level of vetting it and corroborating evidence that something is going on. If we think it’s even got a potential tie to terrorism, we’ll get the FBI involved, and the FBI can look at national-level data and other FBI offices and federal agencies to see if there’s information to even begin an investigation.

And if they begin an investigation, often these investigations turn out that there was not anything to the initial report to the state. And a lot of investigations find that there’s no merit made to the claim against this group or entity, so it’s a very deliberate process that is solidly grounded in state and federal law, and to be perfectly honest, we’d get in a lot of trouble if we did not follow those procedures. But even more so, we have tremendous respect for the privacy and civil rights of Americans.

I’m a retired Army officer, I spent my life making sure Americans had all their rights of freedom, and our office is, you know I’d like to say beyond reproach when it comes to this. But say the citizens of Tennessee should have, you know, great trust and confidence in the way we do business.

TNReport: How many cases do you guys handle a year?

Shipkowski: I can’t tell you that number, and I know you don’t want to hear that, but there’s a significant number of material support to terrorism investigations ongoing in the state at any given time, the actual number of which, or the detail of which, is classified at the secret level or above and can’t be shared with the general public. Every given day there are ongoing material support investigations throughout the state of Tennessee.

TNReport: Do you think this legislation would add anything to fighting terrorism?

Shipkowski: I think the intent of the legislation is to provide us another tool. Until the legislation is actually passed by the full House and Senate and joint committees and becomes law, I can’t tell you what it’s gonna do. I believe the intent is to give us another tool in the toolbox.

This interview was edited for brevity.

Republicans Broaden Anti-Terrorism Bill

Tennessee lawmakers stress that an expanded plan to fight “homegrown terrorism” has nothing to do with religion.

To prove it, they’ve crafted a bill that focuses not only on suspected radical Islamic fundamentalists or proponents of “Sharia Law,” but any group or individual in Tennessee suspected of harboring terrorist intentions or providing “material support” to groups “designated” by the government as potential terrorists.

Hundreds of Muslims who packed into Legislative Plaza Tuesday still beg to differ — although it was unclear whether they’d received a copy of the amendment, which at post time was not on the internet.

Members of the Muslim community jammed into two overflow committee rooms and a legislative lounge and lined the hallways to watch the House and Senate judiciary committees ultimately advance a measure that would give the administration power to identify terrorist entities and punish people who help them.

The original version of the bill specifically targeted people who practice Sharia Law, the foundation of Islamic Code. The two Republican sponsors have since given the bill a make-over by stripping any language about religion and instead widening the reach of the bill to anyone exhibiting potentially terrorist-like tendencies.

The current measure would allow the governor and the attorney general to label anyone as a terrorist if investigations from the state Department of Safety as well as the Office of Homeland Security suggest they are enough of a threat.

The 15-page “Material Support to Designated Entities Act of 2011” would ultimately fight “homegrown terrorism,” whether the state finds that threat in gangs, cults, religious groups or individuals, according to lawmakers carrying the bill.

However, no one group would be specifically targeted, according to Speaker Pro Tempore Judd Matheny who is sponsoring the measure, HB1353, in the House.

“I would just, please, like to implore the Muslim community, this is not against you,” said Matheny. “This is not a witch hunt. This is nothing but to protect ourselves where the federal government can’t or won’t.”

Members of the House Judiciary Committee approved the bill 12-4 while the measure won a 6-3 favorable vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Both measures now advance to the houses’ Finance, Ways and Means committees.

The problem is the bill doesn’t give enough of a recourse for people falsely accused of being or helping terrorists, said Rep. Mike Stewart, a Nashville Democrat.

“It’s un-American as far as I’m concerned,” said Stewart. “What we’re saying here is that somebody in Tennessee, a regular person, can be declared a terrorist, and they have no right to a trial of their peers to clear their good name. That’s just completely the opposite of what we should be doing in this country.”

Votes for the measure fell on mostly partisan lines, although in both chambers, one Democrat voted with Republicans in favor of the bill, and one GOP lawmaker voted with Democrats against it.

Rep. John Lundberg, R-Bristol, said he’s worried the move would give the governor’s office too much power to brand people — and ultimately groups — as terrorists or supporters of terrorists.

The measure feels a lot like the “Patriot Act Part Two for Tennessee,” said Sen. Stacey Campfield, a Knoxville Republican.

“I may be wrong, and by God I really hope I’m not, but for me at this time it’s a bridge too far,” he said.

Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee agrees, saying the language is much too vague and potentially unconstitutional.

Last year, the ACLU landed on the state’s Fusion Center tracking list — which monitors suspected terrorism and suspicious activities —  for penning a letter about respecting religious preferences during the December holiday season. State officials later said the posting was a mistake.

Democrats like Rep. Gary Moore of Joelton and Sen. Tim Barnes of Adams, siding with Republicans, said they are comfortable with the bill as is, although Barnes expects to draft an amendment that would clear up language on due process rights for those accused of being mixed up with terrorism.

Barnes noted to sponsor Ketron that not nearly the outrage would have arisen had the legislation been dubbed the “Timothy McVeigh Bill,” rather than the “Sharia Bill.”

“You can’t put that toothpaste back in the tube, and that’s where we are now,” Barnes said. “This bill has evolved remarkably from where it started out.”

Mohamed Ahmed, an imam from the Islamic Center of Nashville, testified briefly before the House Judiciary committee, telling lawmakers the new version of the measure dwells on emotional blackmail and penalizes the Muslim community, but more than that, it violates the rights of all citizens.

“We believe in justice. We trust our representatives. We’re going to oppose the bill. We’re going to go all the way, Finance Committee, the Senate,” he told reporters after the hearing. “We’re not going to give up. This is not the end. This is the beginning, and we still have a very long way to go.”

Here’s what the measure would do, according to the latest draft adopted Tuesday:

  • The Safety commissioner and state director of homeland security can investigate and recommend the governor and attorney general jointly label a person or group as a terrorists or a terrorist entity.
  • Terrorists are defined as any person or group of two or more people with the capability and intent to engage in terrorist activity that threatens the security or safety of any U.S. resident.
  • Terrorist activity, according to U.S. Code Section 1182, includes any unlawful activities which involve any of the following: highjacking or sabotage of an aircraft, vessel or vehicle; holding someone hostage to compel a third party to do or not do something; a violent attack on public officials or their families; or use of biological or chemical agents, explosives, or weapons to endanger people or cause substantial property damage for more than monetary gain.
  • Anyone knowingly helping a person or group deemed a terrorist or terrorist group would be found guilty of a Class B felony, which would be upgraded to a Class A felony punishable by life in prison without possibility of parole if someone dies as a result of their material support.
  • “Material support” means “any property, tangible or intangible, or service, including currency or monetary instruments or financial securities, financial services, lodging, training, expert advice or assistance, safe houses, false documentation or identification, communications equipment, facilities, weapons, lethal substances, explosives, transportation, and personnel of one (1) or more individuals, including the entity itself; and does not include medicine or religious materials.”
  • Seven days before the designation is made official, the individual or group of people shall be served a summons. The individual or group will then have seven additional days to challenge the classification before it is posted on the Secretary of State website and made public in major newspapers.
  • Once the terrorist label becomes public, designees can seek a judicial review at the chancery court of Davidson County no more than 30 days after the designation kicks in.
  • Any confidential information used by the administration to designate the person or people as terrorists will remain confidential but may be disclosed at the administrative review.
  • A terrorist label can only be removed or blocked by a joint resolution of the General Assembly, a joint decision by the governor and the attorney general or by a court after a challenge by the designee.

Shariah Law Pulled from Terrorism Bill

Press Release from Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, and Speaker Pro Tempore Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma; March 22, 2011:

(NASHVILLE, TN), March 22, 2011 — Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) and House Speaker Pro Tempore Judd Matheny (R-Tullahoma) today said they will offer an amendment to their anti-terrorism bill aimed at curbing the incidence of homegrown terrorist acts in the state before they occur. The amendment, which ensures an even-handed and non-discriminatory approach, addresses those individuals that knowingly provide material support to known designated terrorist entities in Tennessee.

“As amended, this bill has absolutely no references to any specific religion,” said Representative Matheny. “It is about protecting our citizens from those who would use religious doctrine as a justification to commit criminal activities or terrorist acts.”

“The revision reflects our original intention to prevent or deter violent or terrorist acts, but does so without any room for misinterpretation regarding the language’s affect on peaceful religious practices,” added Senator Ketron. “Rep. Matheny and I asked our legislative attorneys to rework this bill to reflect this as clearly as possible so there would be no confusion regarding this matter. The result is a stronger bill that gets at the problem of material support for homegrown terrorism, without any doubt that it does not impact peaceful religious practices of any religion.”

The bill, named the Material Support to Designated Entities Act of 2011, builds on the Terrorism Prevention and Response Act of 2002 which passed the Tennessee General Assembly after the 9-11 terrorist attacks. That law only addresses terrorist acts after they occur by prescribing criminal penalties for those who are convicted under the act. Ketron and Matheny say their bill helps prevent terrorist acts by cutting off the avenues of support that often enable the violence.

“The existing Tennessee statute does not reach planned acts of terrorism because the existing law requires that the terrorist act must have already occurred,” added Ketron. “A material support statute is preventative in that it criminalizes the aid that makes an attack more likely to occur.”

The bill provides that the Director of Tennessee’s Office of Homeland Security can make a recommendation to the Attorney General and the Governor to “designate” a terrorist entity, effectively isolating them from support. Once designated, no material support or resources as defined in the bill may be provided to the designated entity. Thereafter, anyone who provides material support or resources knowing that the designation has been made, may be prosecuted or fined under the bill. In addition, it prescribes procedures to challenge, revoke, or amend a designation. The legislation is closely modeled after the federal anti-terrorism material support statutes which have been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

An August 2010 background report showed 21 U.S. citizens were charged in such cases in 2009 and another 20 were charged in 2010 between January and August.

“The amendment provides a powerful counterterrorism tool to state and local law enforcement enabling them to act decisively before acts of terrorism are committed,” added Matheny. “We have to get it right every time, they only have to get it right once. So far, I have received positive feedback regarding the revised amendment from those in my community who were concerned about the bill.”

Lawmakers React to Dems Labeling GOP Union Bills ‘Fascist,’ ‘Terrorism’

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey criticized Democrats Thursday for using inflammatory language to denounce GOP-led efforts to curb union influence in state government and push education reforms.

“There’s always going to be some partisan barbs thrown back and forth. That’s part of the legislative process,” Ramsey told reporters at the Capitol. “But when we saw Mike Turner stand up on the Capitol last week and call us ‘terrorists’ because we’re trying to get a quality teacher in every classroom, then it has crossed the line.”

Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester “called us ‘fascist’ because we passed a bill that simply says that you don’t have to be a member of a union to serve on the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System. He called us fascists over that,” continued the lieutenant governor. “So has the rhetoric gotten out of hand on the other side? Absolutely.”

Last weekend House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner, speaking before an estimated 3,000 teachers union protesters on the steps of the Capitol, implored Republican Gov. Bill Haslam to “please stop this terrorism against our teachers.”

In the week prior, the Tennessee Democratic Party sent out a fundraising e-mail declaring that “right wing extremists are pushing Wisconsin-style bills through the state legislature that would strip away the rights of teachers and eliminate their political freedom.”

“Make no mistake about it; this is a political attack on teachers for supporting democratic leaders who have stood up for education in our state,” the TNDP e-mail stated. “If passed, these fascist measures will silence the voice of teachers working to improve our schools, communities and our state.”

In interviews with TNReport this week, both Turner and Forrester defended their rhetoric.

“The definition of ‘terrorism’ is intimidation, political intimidation,” Turner told TNReport on Monday.

“I think that’s exactly what’s happening. If you look up the word, the definition, that’s what it is. Terrorism is associated with politics,” Turner continued. “It’s political intimidation, political bullying. That’s what’s happened here. It’s political retribution, what they’re trying to do, and it’s just wrong. And I think, grammatically, that was a correct, proper word to use.”

Forrester said Wednesday the party’s e-mail — which was actually sent prior to the GOP-led Senate passing a bill to deprive the Tennessee Education Association of its ability to pick members of the state’s pension system board — was meant “to encourage teachers to participate” in last Saturday’s protest rally.

“I think it is a fair assessment of what Republicans are doing — stripping teachers, state employees and unions of their collective bargaining rights, something that has been well established in Tennessee Democratic politics,” Forrester said.

“Those things are draconian and sort of border on being fascist,” he added. “The fact that 3,000 people showed up on Saturday in an absolute downpour in the morning — and it was raining throughout the day — shows how passionate people feel about what the Republican-controlled Legislature is attempting to do to teachers, state employees and union members.”

Forrester also defended Turner’s “terrorism” remark at the rally. The party chairman said responsibility for the harsh turn in the debates rests with Republicans for campaigning “about one thing and doing something completely opposed to that” once the legislative session began.

“I don’t see where these actions to remove collective bargaining rights or taking away tenure creates one single job or does anything to advance an agenda that is critical to hard-working Tennesseans — and in particular those who are not working — which is job creation,” said Forrester.

Haslam earlier this week said he’s disturbed by the spiteful tone at the Capitol lately.

“If you ask me what my concern is the last two or three weeks, it would be that. There has been more of a partisan divide, which I don’t think is healthy for solving problems,” the governor said.

At a tea party rally Saturday held prior to the teacher union march, one speaker referred to Haslam as “Mister Rogers,” after the mild-mannered children’s television program host who died in 2003.

On Monday, Sen Jim Summerville, R-Dickson, urged teachers to work with Republicans to “make public schools anew.”

“I want all of you fellow teachers to join with me, with this cause and with this General Assembly. That choice is yours,” Summerville said. “But make no mistake, the final responsibility is ours, and we are warriors.”

The TNDP posted a video of Summerville’s remarks on the party’s blog under the statement, “Rancorous dialogue on the Hill from his own party has irked Gov. Bill Haslam.”

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, told TNReport he took personal offense to Turner’s “terrorism” comment.

“Well, as a former U.S. Army veteran of the first Gulf War, that’s offensive, number one. That’s offensive to everyone who is fighting real terrorists,” said McCormick. “That’s just a silly statement that is hard to even respond to it. I’m disappointed in him in that. I think it is a personal insult to a lot of people and very bad use of language on his part.”

Asked to respond to the “terrorism” and “fascist” usages, Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, the ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, says he “certainly wouldn’t use those remarks.

“But each person has to do what they believe and what they think is appropriate,” he added.

“When things are important to people, they’re important to our state, they’re important to our children, we tend to get a little emotional about them and maybe say things in the heat of the moment that we would not say beforehand,” Fitzhugh said. “I’ll count to five and try not to say those things.”

In an e-mailed statement to TNReport Wednesday, Ramsey said, “This type of bizarre, over-the-top rhetoric is one of many reasons Democrats lost so badly last November.”

Haslam: Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday one of his goals is to reduce the amount of partisan rhetoric that can impede progress in the state.

“None of us want Nashville to become what Washington has become, a place that is so partisan you can’t solve problems,” Haslam said.

Haslam made the remarks in an address to the Outlook TN meeting of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Nashville. He picked up on the same theme when answering questions from the media following the speech.

Capitol Hill has become the scene of intense rallies and counter-rallies in the last several days, primarily over proposed bills on education and especially on a legislative effort that would end collective bargaining rights for teachers.

Haslam has stirred reaction himself with a legislative package that includes making it harder for teachers to earn tenure, but those proposals have escaped some of the harshest rhetoric as the lines have been drawn on collective bargaining. Teachers staged a rally Saturday that drew thousands of people, and a tea party rally at the Capitol supported legislation targeting the teachers union.

Haslam wants to tone it down.

“We’re having those conversations with Republicans and Democrats,” he said. “We really don’t want to get to where Washington is, where good people don’t want to go there anymore to serve.

“If you ask me what my concern is of the last two or three weeks, it would be that. There has been more of a partisan divide, which I don’t think is healthy for solving problems.”

The most contentious debate in recent days has involved Democrats criticizing Republicans over the anti-collective bargaining measure, while much of the disgruntlement among Republicans has been the divide within their own ranks. The more conservative members of the GOP are concerned that some in their party will be weak on the collective bargaining issue.

On Saturday Haslam was referred to as “Mister Rogers,” after the milquetoast television personality, at a tea party rally. Democratic Rep. Mike Turner of Nashville, the caucus chair, called on Haslam to end the “terrorism” against teachers.

Haslam referred to the tone of the last few weeks and said, “I want to kind of get past all that.”

“I think the vast majority of Tennesseans want us to fix things. That’s why they sent us here,” Haslam said. “I’m going to try to solve problems and fix things. I think that’s why Tennesseans elected me to be governor.”

But he noted that Tennessee is not alone. Fights over public employee benefits and collective bargaining, in particular for teachers, have erupted in Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana and Florida.

“Some of what’s happening on education is a reflection of what’s happening nationally,” Haslam said. “I think it has kind of exacerbated things.”

Haslam used most of his address to the Chamber of Commerce as a preview of his budget presentation and State of the State address scheduled for Monday. He said he wished he had had more time to work on the budget. Haslam was sworn in on Jan. 15, and he is preparing to offer a budget that will be roughly $30 billion in size.

“People ask, ‘How do you like being governor?’ I say, ‘I love it.’ It’s just that the start date is wrong,” Haslam said.

He said having to establish a budget only six or seven weeks after being sworn in is difficult. He also noted the difficulty when the legislature proposes 2,200 bills and he is expected to have an opinion on all of them. Then there are the 23 commissioners in his own administration that need his attention.

“There’s a lot to learn,” he said.

Haslam emphasized the three themes he has driven home all along — jobs, education and the budget, adding that an education plan ultimately is a jobs plan. While his views on education and tort reform are widely known, many people will be eager to see where Haslam will make cuts in the budget, which he said would be the subject of more specificity on Monday.

“The budget obviously comes really quick,” he said. “No matter how much work you do before you come into office, it’s a little different once you’re there. Once you have the departments, you can actually reach down in and ask questions you can’t ask when you’re out of office.

“The budget is so critical to what we do as a state. While you want to get it there for the Legislature to discuss, you obviously want to get it right. Every day, I learn a little bit more.”