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Haslam Sticking to His Guns on Pilot Financial Disclosures

Bill Haslam doesn’t sound like a man who’s going to change his mind and disclose his income from Pilot Corp., the Haslam family business.

“We’re going to spend as much time as we can on who we are and why we think folks should vote for Bill Haslam for governor,” Haslam said this week.

Haslam’s Republican opponents in the governor’s race have blistered the Knoxville mayor for not reporting income from Pilot, citing potential conflicts of interest for Haslam should he become governor.

Pilot Corp., which grew from one gas station to a large chain of Pilot Travel Centers on roadways, is established as a “Subchapter S” corporation under the federal tax code. That status means gains and losses are reported on shareholders’ individual tax returns. Haslam says disclosure of his financial interest in Pilot would mean disclosing personal income of family members, which he does not want to do.

“I don’t know what it adds to the discussion,” Haslam said. “I have other family members I care greatly about that you’re already subjecting to a lot when I run, and this opens them up to a lot of things that they didn’t ask for.”

Haslam, suggesting the ownership of Pilot is obvious to the public, said he doesn’t know what divulging the income would add.

“I don’t know what the voter gains,” he said, explaining that he doesn’t hear questions about his income from voters. “I’m out talking to people all the time. I never hear that. I hear lots of conversations about jobs and education. I hear people concerned about the budget, people concerned about the direction of the country. Nobody ever asks me about that (financial disclosure), except the other candidates.”

The issue arose in December when the state’s four major newspapers, in a collaborative arrangement known as the Tennessee Newspaper Network, asked all 2010 gubernatorial candidates to provide information on their finances.

Candidates were asked in November to provide their federal income tax returns and related schedules for 2006-2008. Haslam reported money earned on investments that averaged $4.75 million a year from 2003-2008, but the submission did not include data on Pilot. Haslam’s submission on investments outside Pilot was extensive.

A copy of a letter dated Nov. 25, 2009 from the Steiner & Ellis accounting firm, addressed to Knoxville News-Sentinel reporter Tom Humphrey, who wrote the income story for the Tennessee Newspaper Network, states, “If elected, all of Bill’s and Crissy’s assets, except Pilot, will be placed in a blind trust.”

Crissy is Bill Haslam’s wife. The Haslam family, headed by James Haslam Jr., the candidate’s father and founder of Pilot Corp., is one of the most influential in the state in terms of wealth, philanthropy and political involvement.

Bill Haslam is considered by many to be the frontrunner in the Republican primary to become governor, and he has collected more than $5.7 million in campaign contributions, which tops the field of four major Republican candidates and three Democrats.

Haslam has already launched a statewide television ad campaign, making him the first to do so.

“We want to do everything we can to answer every question we can,” Haslam said. “Like everything else, you try to say, ‘What do people care about, and what do people need to know if I’m going to be governor?’ Because of that, we’re releasing more than anybody who’s run in this race has released when they ran in prior races and more than is required by law and shows everything we own, I own, and every source of income I think tells people everything they need to know about where I have investments and where I might have potential conflict.”

Haslam says his interest in Pilot isn’t hidden.

“Everybody knows my relationship to Pilot,” he said. “That’s not a secret.”

One of Haslam’s Republican opponents, Shelby County District Attorney General Bill Gibbons, insists Haslam has a conflict of interest, for example, when the potential for a new highway interchange is considered. U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, another Republican opponent, has said Haslam has numerous conflicts since Pilot sells regulated items such as tobacco, alcohol and lottery tickets.

“On road projects or anything else, if you own any asset and you’re the governor, that same question could be asked,” Haslam said. “The governor oversees and regulates things from all sorts of businesses, from farming to any other kind of commercial interest, and if you own any investments, you could say, ‘Gosh, you shouldn’t be governor.’ I don’t think we want to only have people in government who don’t own any assets.”

Haslam said it is not as though it is a hypothetical issue, given his current office.

“This isn’t a theoretical conversation. I’ve been an active mayor for six and a half years, so there is a track record on all these questions that are being asked,” he said. “I’m more than willing for people to come look at Knoxville and say, ‘All these things we’re concerned about, what’s happening in Knoxville? Would he do this or do that?’ Come check.”

He poses the question of whether the issue means you could only have a governor with no private sector involvement.

“If you say, ‘Only if you have been in government service all your life can you be governor,’ I don’t think people want to put anyone who owns assets on the sidelines like that,” he said. “On roads, the reality is, anytime you add a road, if you have an existing network of gas stations or truck stops, it could easily hurt as much as help. Road investments, like everything else we do as a state, if I’m governor, will be driven by: How can we make Tennessee the best location in the Southeast for jobs?”

Haslam said questions about such issues are being asked more of him than any other candidate in the campaign.
Transparency and Elections

Wamp Launches Campaign — And More Barbs at Haslam

Republican gubernatorial candidate Zach Wamp critiqued the much-discussed early television ad by primary opponent Bill Haslam today as a “Pilot Oil ad,” adding that his own ads will show a candidate running for governor.

“I’m grateful, frankly, that there’s a lot of money being wasted right now, because we’re going to wait and spend our money in a very efficient, effective way,” Wamp said.

Wamp’s reaction to the Haslam ad came in Murfreesboro Tuesday following a morning event at the State Capitol Building, where Wamp formally announced his campaign for governor.

“I believe deep in my bones that we have a great state, the greatest of all states, but I know in my heart we can do better,” the congressman told a crowd while standing with his family in the Old Supreme Court Chambers of the State Capitol Building.

The room was filled with supporters and state legislators. House Speaker Kent Williams, R-Elizabethton — though not on board as a supporter — also poked his head in at the announcement.

Wamp said this is no time for a status quo governor and called for smaller government.

“Government cannot solve all of our problems,” he said. “Ladies, and gentlemen, we’re going to have to shrink the footprint of state government and get through this recession and grow our economy.”

While his Capitol appearance served as his formal campaign announcement, Wamp has been running for governor actively for months.

Wamp offered his take on the Haslam advertising campaign while stopping for lunch today at the City Cafe in Murfreesboro, which just happened to coincide with an appearance by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Kim McMillan.

Wamp arrived first, met with many of the diners and had just sat down with his family when McMillan entered for her own interaction with the lunchtime crowd.

McMillan had spoken at Middle Tennessee State University. Wamp’s entourage had made its way into town after being at Capitol Hill in Nashville.

Two storylines have dominated the Republican primary race in recent days.

One is the effort by Wamp and Shelby County District Attorney General Bill Gibbons to hold Haslam accountable for refusing to disclose his personal income from Pilot Corp., the Haslam family business known for the Pilot Travel Centers along highway roadsides. Over the last week, the two have peppered the Knoxville mayor with public comments calling for him to release his private records.

“Mayor Haslam’s running in a Republican primary,” said David Smith, Haslam’s campaign spokesman. “But it sounds like he’s running against a bunch of California liberals attacking capitalism.”

The other hot topic is Haslam’s early statewide campaign television ad buy. The move is drawing attention not only for its early timing but for the $5.7 million in campaign contributions Haslam has collected– giving him a decided financial advantage over his opposition.

“This is a big week in that we’re kicking it into the home stretch,” Wamp said. “But this is also a momentum week because while one candidate is spending a lot of money branding himself on television, I am out clearly laying out where our state needs to go to become an even better state. And I think that’s a contrast.”

Since he brought up what was clearly a reference to Haslam, Wamp was asked to critique the debut ad that hit televisions across the state Friday.

“I don’t want to talk much about what the other campaigns are doing with their money,” he said, then added, “To me it looks like a Pilot Oil ad. My ads are going to show me running for governor with a plan and an agenda to make Tennessee a better place, not the family business. So they can brand him however they want to, and they can spend as much money as they want to, but the people of Tennessee want a leader with vision and a plan to make Tennessee an ever better state.

“Frankly, I have the experience of having done that,” he continued. “I’ve been able to do that in one part of the state. Now I want to do it in the whole state, and the people are with us.”

The Haslam ad depicts the Knoxville mayor as having worked hard to build up the Pilot business, showing images of trucks at truck stops while a voiceover reflects on Haslam’s work as mayor. The ad also gives a glimpse of Haslam knocking on doors working his campaign and walking with others toting big red umbrellas.

In the restaurant in Murfreesboro, Wamp made his way over to greet McMillan, one of three Democratic candidates for governor. The smiling McMillan said to him what sounded like, “Great minds think alike” about their chance meeting.

McMillan’s campaign staff said the location was a coincidence, but they acknowledged they learned about a day or so ago Wamp was scheduled to be there, too.

Wamp, the 3rd District U.S. congressman from Chattanooga, is on what his campaign bills as a “statewide announcement tour.” He will be in the TriCities on Wednesday.

Wamp said he was encouraged by the crowd of people who had attended his event at the Capitol.

“Frankly, the desire for new leadership is what’s causing this,” he said. “In the Capitol itself, to have that kind of show of support, to have many of our legislators there, leaders from the community there, I was greatly encouraged.”

It was cramped quarters from the start in the Murfreesboro cafe where the soup, chili and sandwiches were moving quickly. The entrance of McMillan to go with the Wamp crowd made for even closer brushes between patrons and servers.

There, McMillan talked about the kinds of reactions she gets from such meetings with the public.

“A lot of them say, ‘Good luck,’ ‘Go for it,’ ‘We’re for you,’ which I like,” McMillan said. “But a lot of it is, ‘Here’s what I think.”

“I just heard two good ideas when I got here. One was someone talking about regionalism, and someone else promoted the idea of lifelong educational opportunities, thinking about making sure people always have that re-training and education. Good ideas.”

Andrea Zelinski contributed to this report.

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Bill Blizzard Ongoing Until Thursday

With the special session on education all but wrapped up, an avalanche of bills are awaiting consideration in legislative committees.

Since Jan. 12 lawmakers have mostly been focused on education. This week 28 committee meetings are scheduled at the Capitol to take up a range of issues. Roughly 75 bills now sit in committees to which they’ve been assigned, though not all will be heard this week.

More than 2,000 bills are currently alive. More than 400 have been introduced since the beginning of 2010 — and the floodgates are open until the Thursday deadline to file new bills.

Normally the deadline is slated for the tenth legislative day or the second Thursday of regular session, whichever leadership decides, according to the Senate Clerk’s Office. But when special session pushed the regular session back, the House and Senate leadership set the deadline for Jan. 28.

This week, the bustling committee schedule includes several presentations from state departments:

  • The House Commerce Committee will hear a department update from Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Leslie Newman.
  • Department of Agriculture Commissioner Ken Givens will give the House Ag Committee an orientation-like review of the department programs, services and budget proposal presented to Gov. Phil Bredesen last fall.
  • Senate Environment, Conservation and Tourism Committee will listen to a presentation on alternative energy from Oak Ridge National Laboratory and another outlining new initiatives within state tourism from Tourist Development Commissioner Susan Whitaker.
  • The Consumer and Employee Affairs committee will hear a presentation on the Unemployment Trust Fund from the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
  • The State Collaborative on Reforming Education will give a presentation to the House Education Committee

they are free to vet other bills ranging from making it a “deceptive act” for a company to ask for a person’s social security number to changing the way the state counts multiple DUI offenses.

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Committee Questions Need for Sex-Offender Oversight Board

NASHVILLE – A state panel that develops standards and guidelines for monitoring and treating sex offenders after they’re released from prison is in limbo due to spotty board member attendance at regular meetings.

Lawmakers discussing whether or not to advise the full Legislature that the Tennessee Sex Offender Treatment Board should continue to function chose to offer “no recommendation” this week after the board failed to produce members’ attendance records for the last two years as requested by a recent Division of State Audit performance inquiry.

Rep. G.A. Hardaway, a member of the Joint Government Operations committee, also called it “disturbing” that members known to be repeatedly absent from the treatment board’s meetings typically never sent proxies to sit, observe or act in their place.

At a subcommittee hearing Oct. 21, the Memphis Democrat said he wonders if the absences reflect a fading need to keep the board running.

Hardaway added that he wouldn’t support the board’s continued existence until it had at least complied with the request by auditors to examine board-meeting attendance records.

“I don’t see how we can evaluate this…we don’t even know if the board members are showing up,” said Hardaway.

Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, who chaired the hearing, warned that “failure to respond to questions appropriately” by members of boards, commissions and departments called before Joint Government Operations subcommittees for performance reviews will result in a “no recommendation” finding. A “no recommendation” subcommittee stamp means that a board or agency will have to convince the full Government Operations committee of its legitimate necessity during the 2010 legislative session, or face sunset termination.

Created in 1995, the board is charged with establishing best-practices for how sex offenders should be treated after they’re released to ensure public safety. The board designs treatment programs, trains treatment providers and assesses the likelihood of recidivism.

Board member Dr. J. Michael Adler, a licensed psychological examiner, says the board’s goal is to change behaviors among sex offenders by setting guidelines and offering training to treatment providers.

Adler was nominated to chair the board after Dr. Jeanine Miller, former director for the Department of Corrections’ mental health division, left the post after taking a job with TennCare.

Adler says less than 15 percent of sex offenders are rearrested after undergoing treatment programs. Sex offenders who haven’t undergone treatment programs have a 30 percent chance of being arrested again for similar acts, he said.