Haslam’s Speech Mostly Well-Received by Dems

Democrats in the Tennessee Legislature could no doubt think of a lot of people they’d prefer to be taking charge of Tennessee’s state government other than Bill Haslam.

It’d surely suit them just fine if Phil Bredesen was the governor for another your years.

But most members of what’s now the minority party in both legislative chambers who shared their thoughts with TNReport on Saturday expressed a decidedly hopeful outlook that the new governor’s interests and priorities are similar to, or at least are reconcilable with, their own.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s inaugural speech touched on improving education, encouraging good health among citizens, fostering job creation and meeting the state’s fiscal challenges “with a measure of compassion.” Some Democrats say they’re on the same page with Haslam. Although, a few worried that some of words and phrases he used in his speech hinted at an agenda more typical of a Republican on the national stage than an independent-minded, state-focused Tennessean.

After the new governor’s speech, TNReport asked Democrats what they came away with:

Chattanooga Sen. Andy Berke said he thinks Haslam is someone who wants to accomplish a lot during his governorship and he looks forward with working with him on many of those ideas. Berke indicated he appreciates the governor’s willingness to emphasize the importance of crafting policies that promote education improvement and job growth.

House Democratic Caucus Leader Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, of Ripley, says the new governor’s inauguration speech showed he and Democrats share many of the same goals.

Nashvillian Rep. Brenda Gilmore said she was happy to hear words from Gov. Haslam indicating he sees himself as a leader for all the people of Tennessee, not just those who identify and and affiliate with the GOP.

Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, a Memphis Democrat, said the new governor’s speech was overall quite positive and at times even uplifting. But Kyle added Haslam’s talk of government having to take things away from people wasn’t easy to hear. “But he pulled that off very well, and we are going to work with him the best we can,” said Kyle.

Sen. Beverly Marrero, the leader of the 22-member Shelby County Delegation to the Tennessee General Assembly, agreed that tough economic times call for tough choices. But she said lawmakers need to make sure they protect certain vulnerable populations.

Former House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, a Covington Democrat, believes the chances are good Gov. Bill Haslam will, for the most part, carry on the legacy of Phil Bredesen, whom Naifeh characterized as an “outstanding governor.”

Rep. Gary Odom, a former Democratic Caucus Leader in the House, said Haslam’s inauguration speech hit on all the key points the state needs to work on in the next four years.

Rep. Joe Towns, high ranking member of the House of Representatives’ Democratic Caucus, said Haslam’s speech employed partisan GOP euphemisms and code words. Democrats, he said, have always been efficient stewards of state resources in Tennessee. Towns suspects Haslam and the GOP are signaling “they are going to try to decimate education” in the name of reform, said Towns.

Lowe Finney, the Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman, indicated he’s hopeful Gov. Bill Haslam will follow in the steps of Phil Bredesen on education, and that the new governor will bring a sense of bipartisan cooperation to office.

TNReport also spoke to Republicans and former Speaker Kent Williams about what they took away from Haslam’s speech.