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Governor Holds Closed-Door Meeting with Minority-Community Lawmakers

Education concerns were central to the discussions, including Gov. Haslam’s handling of the Memphis-Shelby schools controversy.

Several House members with significant minority populations in their districts met privately with Gov. Bill Haslam in his conference room Tuesday in a get-to-know-you session.

The meeting was arranged by Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville, and Rep. Harry Tindell, D-Knoxville, as a way to introduce their colleagues to the former Knoxville mayor.

“It was a good meet-and-greet,” Armstrong said. “With the governor being from Knoxville, it gave myself and Harry Tindell an opportunity to introduce him to some members he didn’t know personally.

“We went around the table with members telling where they’re from and telling him about some of the entities they have in their districts. So it was a good, informative meeting. And then they got to know about Governor Haslam, who he is, how he was as mayor. And if he does half the job he did as mayor, he’ll be a great governor.”

One of the issues on the legislators’ minds was the on-going debate about dissolving the Memphis city school district and the future of Shelby County schools.

“He said he is in contact with the Memphis mayors almost every day, and hopefully that we can come up with some friendly compromise,” Rep. Lois DeBerry, D-Memphis, said. “He’s very engaged.”

The meeting was closed to the media, but some lawmakers who attended said each member had the opportunity to describe the issues they cared about most.

“And the governor talked about the budget and the seriousness of it and the cutting that has to be done,” DeBerry said. “You might as well lay it out there.”

The group discussed other education issues, including college tuition, said Rep. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville.

“Education is on our mind, making sure that tuition stays at a rate that’s reachable for our students, that we don’t price some bright minds out of the opportunity to go to college. We talked about holding that tuition level down.

“We talked about trying to improve the graduation rate and making sure that as we make cuts in our state government — I think we all acknowledge there is a hole we have to fill, about $1 billion, maybe approaching $1 billion and a half — that we don’t do that on the backs of those populations that are already vulnerable, such as in mental health.”

The meeting apparently fulfilled its purpose.

“I though it was excellent,” Gilmore said. “We got to hear from the governor some of the things he is passionate about, and we had an opportunity to share with him some of the items we’re passionate about, both in our districts and across Tennessee.”

Gilmore seemed impressed.

“He’s very bright,” she said.

“He gave us a commitment that he was going to represent all the people. I left that room feeling like he was going to be representative of all the people.”

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