Press Releases

TN Dems Enjoying Uncontested Gubernatorial Primary

Statement from the Tennessee Democratic Party, July 28, 2010:

Tennessee’s Republican gubernatorial candidates are making a compelling case to elect Democrat Mike McWherter for governor. State Sen. Ron Ramsey, U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp and Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam are viciously attacking one another over perceived shortcomings in their Republican credentials. See an example of their attacks on one another in this short YouTube video clip.

Mike McWherter is the only candidate for governor who understands the real issues and concerns affecting most of us: creating jobs and providing the state with economic security for future generations of Tennesseans.

To get involved with the Mike McWherter for Governor campaign, visit his website at Mike

The Tennessee Democratic Party also needs your help to elect Democrats in the General Assembly and Congress, as well. We can use volunteers and financial support for all aspects of this fall’s campaigns. For more information call us at 615-327-9779 or visit our website at

Business and Economy Health Care News Transparency and Elections

Ramsey Prescribes County-Centered Health Plan

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, proposes using local health departments to meet the needs of TennCare patients in a way that would ease the load on emergency rooms and save taxpayers’ money all at the same time.

Ramsey said the idea is an example of thinking outside the box on how to restructure state government. Under Ramsey’s plan, health departments in the 95 counties would serve as the primary care provider for patients who are often prone to use emergency rooms as their point of primary care, which is enormously expensive, he said.

“I’ve been trying to examine what I’m going to do as the next governor to really restructure state government, because that’s going to happen,” Ramsey said. “One of the biggest expenses is our TennCare Medicaid program, and one of the biggest expenses there is that those who are on TennCare use our emergency rooms as our primary provider.”

Ramsey said his plan would use medical schools in each of its three grand divisions, the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis, Meharry Medical College in Nashville and the East Tennessee State University James H. Quillen College of Medicine in Johnson City. Ramsey would have the medical schools’ students staff the health departments.

“I think this could really work and not only provide better care for people instead of ending up in emergency rooms but also saving taxpayers’ money,” Ramsey said.

Ramsey said he had talked with several health directors in the state and that he expects some will be helping him with the plan. He said he has also talked to the Tennessee Medical Association about the plan to see if it will work.

“I do think the majority of people think it will work,” he said.

The plan came from a sort of brainstorming session Ramsey had with other state senators one night, he said.

“I can remember when I was a young man, and I got my immunizations and I got my primary care, we went to those county health departments,” Ramsey said. “I’m 55 years old. Yet when TennCare came in in the early 90s, we basically neutered those health departments just to draw that money into the central system, to draw down more federal funds.

“I think it wouldn’t be that hard to go back to that system to where we have those patients across the state using that as primary care. You can imagine the savings that would be.”

The cost of health care continues to be a major headache for the state. The troubles of TennCare are well known, although there seems to be a general feeling that TennCare costs are under far better control now than in years past. That has not erased concerns about people who need coverage, however. And the federal health care reform law, unless adjusted, is expected to have a large impact on states, where complaints of unfunded mandates on expanding coverage have risen.

“If you go into an emergency room in particular, first of all, they’re going to run all kinds of tests just to cover themselves because of lawsuits on hospitals,” Ramsey said. “Those on a primary system, through that screening system, if it’s only the sniffles or a headache or stuffy nose, they could treat it there. But if it’s something more important, they can send them on to another doctor.”

Business and Economy News Transparency and Elections

Economic Recovery Elusive; Fears of Double Dip Recession Loom

A read on gubernatorial candidates in recent days, seeking their interpretations of where the economy is headed, was very much like getting a read from economists.

There is no unanimity of opinion.

Candidates are certainly not experts at economic predictions, but they travel the state constantly and are in about as good a position to gauge the economic landscape across the state as anybody. They talk to a lot of people in a lot of sectors, and they listen as they go.

The next governor and General Assembly will have to grapple with economic woes regardless of which way the pendulum is swinging next January when the new administration takes office, but any person running for governor has to be wondering if the trouble ahead is known or about to get worse than advertised.

Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, who routinely tells voters the state will have a $1.5 billion hole to deal with, still believes the longterm view is positive.

“The stock market is not always the most accurate reflection of the economy,” Haslam said. “There are so many other things involved than that. I think we’re in the early stages of the recovery, but I think we have a long way to go, and I think employment is going to lag in this recovery.”

Tennessee, like the nation as a whole, is seeing encouraging pockets of economic news. Earlier this month, the state said revenue collections for April were at a net positive growth of 2.23 percent over the same month a year ago. April revenues were $1.243 billion, $43.4 million more than budgeted. It was the state’s first positive sales tax growth month in nearly two years. The state’s unemployment rate for April was 10.5 percent, an improvement by one-tenth of a percentage point over March.

But one of Haslam’s rivals for the Republican nomination believes Tennessee is still in for a remarkably difficult time.

“I’ve been in all 95 counties, and I cannot see an economic recovery,” said U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp of Chattanooga. “The stock market, I’m concerned, is responding to the global economies of Greece and Europe and weak economies frankly because of large government debt.”

With the lingering problems in the global economy, questions are rising as to whether the previously bleak projections have told the full story. The bad news could get worse. Wamp says the United States needs to change its approach.

“We’re headed in (the wrong) direction, unless we reverse some of our decisions as a nation in terms of spending, consumer confidence and confidence by small business people,” said Wamp. “Investor confidence and other governments’ confidence in our ability to repay our own debt is not going to come back, and that slows the economic recovery. I still think we are months, if not years, away from an economic recovery.”

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, who has taken pains to remind voters at every turn that federal stimulus funds run out next January, said he wasn’t sure if the nation is in a recovery or not.

“I was hoping for a turnaround. For the first time in months we saw an uptick in revenue,” Ramsey said. “But I think it’s going to be a long, slow recovery, not a quick upturn. I know some on Wall Street are calling it a double dip. Who knows? If I knew, I’d be the richest man in the world.”

But Ramsey who has an auction and real estate business, has noticed some improvements that hit close to home.

“I tell you, it’s feeling better in the real world, as far as the real estate market,” Ramsey said. “In the last few weeks, I’ve seen upticks in my business in particular. It could just be spring fever. The real estate market always picks up in the spring. So who knows?”

Democrat Mike McWherter, who has locked up his party’s nomination, points to what has become a common expression — jobless recovery.

“My sense of the situation is that we are at the bottom of this recession,” McWherter, who owns a beer distributorship in Jackson, said. “But the problem we’ve got now is that the recovery seems to be a jobless one. That’s why I’m focusing on creating jobs here in this state.

“That’s what my program is about, recruiting industry and how we give incentives to existing businesses to add employees. If we do that, if we get people back to work, there’s no question we’ll be in a full recovery.”

Another Republican candidate, Joe Kirkpatrick, who has participated in several gubernatorial forums although he’s vastly underfunded by comparison to his opponents, sees no sign the economy is in a recovery.

“It’s clear that we’re not,” Kirkpatrick said. “The very idea that we were ever in one was smoke and mirrors.

“We’re at 10 percent unemployment. With those who have quit looking for a job, those that are underemployed, you’re looking at between 20 percent and 30 percent out of work.”

Haslam said he sees employers being cautious.

“I’ve talked to a lot of employers who said, ‘My business is slowly getting better, but I don’t feel confident enough to go hire people back yet, or when I do I’m hiring temporaries,'” Haslam said.

The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development said this month that Tennessee’s workforce, at 3,028,500, is the highest since May 2009 and that the number of unemployed, 318,000, is at its lowest since March 2009.

News Transparency and Elections

Wamp Scoffs at McWherter’s Tax-Break Vow

Republican gubernatorial candidate Zach Wamp said Tuesday Democrat Mike McWherter’s pledge to give tax breaks to businesses that create jobs is an example of an “empty campaign promise” that can’t be met.

He likens such an idea to the strategies coming out of Washington from President Obama.

Wamp, in Montgomery County as part of several campaign stops Tuesday in Middle Tennessee, also said he has enough money to compete with Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam for the Republican nomination. He said he will begin his own television campaign advertising soon and described the request for an ethics investigation into his living quarters in Washington as “bogus.”

Wamp, the 3rd District U.S. representative from Chattanooga, pointed out that the state is looking at a budget deficit of over $1 billion.

“I think we all have to be careful that we’re not just throwing out political promises you can’t meet once you’re governor, because tax breaks right now in Tennessee are going to be really hard to come by until we fill up this $1-billion-plus budget hole,” Wamp said. “And that’s responsible, honest talk.

“Anyone who’s talking about tax breaks as soon as they become governor right now is just trying to throw out some empty campaign promise, in my opinion. Right now, we’ve got to reform the way state government does business, we’ve got to right-size state government. Frankly, if the Democratic nominee’s incentives for economic development mirror President Obama’s, no thanks.”

McWherter last week, in his speech formally announcing his candidacy, said he would give tax breaks to businesses who hire Tennessee workers. McWherter also called into question Haslam’s honesty in his campaign ads that said Haslam helped create 11,000 jobs.

None of the three major Republican nominees — Wamp, Haslam or Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey — has advocated tax breaks in the campaign.

“The government largess and the government make-jobs by the Democrats in power today in this country haven’t worked, and there’s not a whole lot of state incentives you can offer in the state budget unlike the federal budget for small business investment,” Wamp said.

Kim Sasser Hayden, McWherter’s campaign manager, said in an e-mail response, “Zach Wamp’s spent way too long in Washington, and he’s busy finding excuses how not to get things done.”

“Zach is right about one thing: It will be difficult to get things done if his views prevail,” she added.

Wamp reported campaign fund-raising figures this week that put him over $3 million in total contributions, but that was far short of the figure Haslam’s campaign put out that said Haslam has now topped $7 million in funds.

“He could spend $50 million if he wants to,” Wamp said of the wealthy Haslam. “So you really can’t worry about what their top number is. What you do is raise the amount you need to communicate with 500,000 people.”

Wamp reflected on some of Haslam’s own words to make his point.

“There’s some science to this,” Wamp said. “He said himself a year ago you could run a successful campaign for governor with $5 million, and I agree with what he said a year ago, because that’s about what I’m going to do. If you’re a good candidate, $5 million is all it takes. If you’re not a good candidate, who knows? It may take $15 million.”

Wamp, who noted that on Thursday there will be only 100 days before early voting starts, said he would be airing television ads “very soon.”

“That’s all I’m going to say,” he replied about the timing. “With 100 days to early voting, you’re getting into a window where people are paying attention and therefore paid communication becomes essential, and we’re not very far at all away from paid communication.

“Frankly, I’m really excited about that, because I have won the ground game in this campaign for 15 months. Now that I get to go up on air very soon, this is going to be a very successful campaign down the stretch.”

Wamp also has issues to address in Washington, however. A watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, has filed complaints with the Senate Ethics Committee and the House Office of Congressional Ethics against Wamp and other members of Congress who live or who have resided in a building known as C Street House. The group claims congressional members who stay in the house are paying below-market rates in violation of rules regarding gifts for members.

“It’s a totally bogus claim,” Wamp said Tuesday. “To allege we’re not paying market value is simply not analyzing the market.”

He said CREW’s request for an investigation is just that.

“This was just an outside group filing the complaint,” he said. “Unless and until that committee takes it up, it’s not in any way an investigation. It’s just been filed, so I don’t know if they will or what they will do to take it up, to be honest with you. It is the most ridiculous allegation and claim that I have seen. I have lived there for 14 years. Isn’t it interesting that this just now comes up?

“Over 50 members of Congress live in their offices for free, subsidized by the taxpayer,” Wamp said. “Over 50.”

CREW says House and Senate gift rules prohibit what’s being done.

“Unless they’re going to do an evaluation of all 535 members — and it will be a wide range, from the freebies in the House gym to multi-multi-millionaires — you can’t just pick a few and file an investigation,” Wamp said. “I don’t see how you just pick a few and say we’re going to look at them but not everybody. They need to look at everybody if they’re going to look at one.”

Business and Economy Health Care Tax and Budget

Ramsey Impressed with Cover Tennessee

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, wants to expand Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen’s Cover Tennessee health care insurance program, he said this week.

Ramsey, a GOP primary candidate for governor, views the fledgling program as an example of the kind of health care reform needed — a policy that encourages personal responsibility, shares buy-in and, if managed properly, is sustainable over the long term.

“I think it’s a way we could actually solve the problem here in Tennessee,” Ramsey said of Cover Tennessee, which was launched in 2007 as a way to provide a reasonable amount of coverage for workers in small businesses, the self-employed and for people unable to find affordable coverage elsewhere.

“I know the governor had intentions of expanding it, but we have to face fiscal reality in Tennessee, too,” he added. “We can’t be like the federal government and print money. We have to actually pay for things.

“So I would like to see what’s working in that program and expand it, because small businesses are the ones that need health care insurance, and Cover Tennessee could at least be part of that solution,” he continued.

Cover Tennessee was created as a way to offer limited-benefits coverage to the working uninsured. It was never portrayed as a large-scale answer on health-care reform, thus its modest beginning.

The fundamental concept in the program is that the premiums are split three ways, with an employer covering one-third of the premium, the employee covering one-third and the state covering one-third. If an employer did not choose to participate, the employee could pay two thirds of the premium.

The program includes CoverTN for uninsured workers; CoverKids which is free comprehensive coverage for children; AccessTN for those who can’t find insurance due to pre-existing conditions; and CoverRx for providing affordable drug coverage.

CoverTN was forced to suspend new enrollment after Dec. 31, 2009 in order to keep the program manageable. CoverKids also suspended new enrollment late last year but has since reopened enrollment, beginning March 1. Budget factors were cited as the reason for the enrollment suspensions, which was seen as both regrettable for limiting the rolls but also a sign that the program is working and has had a good satisfaction record.

Ramsey said, on his watch, the program would not drift away as some sort of experiment by the Bredesen administration.

“That’s a model I like actually, to allow some minimum coverage to where people can at least have coverage and pay part of it.” he said. “That’s exactly the kind of program I think works as opposed to what the federal government is trying to do, which is to completely take over health care, one-sixth of our economy.”

Ramsey’s support for the program seems to be exceeded only by his disdain for the kind of health-care changes being discussed in Washington. In fact, he sounds downright angry about the direction the national health-care debate has taken.

“I tell you, it has come down to this: I don’t think Washington really cares what passes. They just want something to pass,” Ramsey said. “That’s been obvious to me over the last month or two. I guarantee you there’s hardly a congressman or senator who could tell you what’s in that bill, even the ones who are for it. I don’t think the president could tell you what’s in that bill.

“They will mold it. They will squeeze it. They will make it whatever they can just so they can have a photo-op and stand in front of some flags with senators and congressmen saying, ‘We passed health reform,’ even though it does not solve the problem. That’s what bothers me. That’s no way to enact public policy.”

Ramsey said he ultimately would prefer it if Washington allow states to work out health care problems on their own.

“I’d tell them to leave us alone and don’t force us to expand our Medicaid rolls, when they can operate on borrowed money and we can’t,” Ramsey said. “In Tennessee, in general, we’ve had to make some very tough decisions in the last few years, to remove 140,000 from the rolls.

“We’ve gotten from where it was 38 percent of the state budget and now 26 percent of the state budget, and I’d just tell them to flat-out leave us alone, let us work on this problem as states should, as laboratories, and don’t tell us how to fix it.”

He sees a program like Cover Tennessee as something that could grow.

“We’re working on some solutions a little bit at a time in Tennessee, with Cover Tennessee, that will allow small businesses to buy into it,” Ramsey said. “That’s a program that should be advertised a little more than it is right now, because I think most people don’t know about it.”

Ramsey does endorse a reform concept that’s often been discussed in Washington as a significant policy shift generally more acceptable to opponents of a public-option plan.

“If the federal government could do anything to help us, it would be to allow insurance companies to compete across state lines,” he said. “Right now you can buy your car insurance across state lines. You see what the Geicos of the world and the Nationwides of the world are doing, advertising those lower rates. Competition works.

“You can buy fire insurance across state lines. Why shouldn’t you be able to buy health insurance across state lines? I think competition in the free-market system would help drive down health insurance costs.”

Business and Economy Featured News

TN’s Big 3 Campaign Issues: ‘Jobs, Jobs & Jobs’

Gubernatorial candidate Bill Haslam plans to launch a statewide “jobs tour” this week, and it’s safe to say he won’t be the only candidate addressing the issue for the next several months.

If there’s been one constant refrain by the candidates thus far, it’s been “jobs, jobs and jobs,” as Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey described Tennessee’s “top three issues” in a recent speech.

Candidates often have pet projects and special agendas in any election. Sometimes candidates completely misread what the public wants and needs, but candidates from both major political parties this year seem to understand the one thing most on the public’s mind is employment and its relationship to the economy.

Haslam, Republican mayor of Knoxville, has also announced that as governor he would create regional “jobs base camps,” where 10 to 13 “regional directors” in the state will apply strategies specific to each area. Haslam says his approach would “decentralize the home office.”

Given Haslam’s assertions that he has a conservative agenda, he was asked if the regional program would add to bureaucracy and expand state government. But he quickly rejected that notion.

“We’re not adding more people. We’re just pushing more authority to the regional level,” said Haslam, whose family owns Pilot Corp., known for its Pilot Travel Centers. “We want the right people to lead that regional effort. It comes from my conviction being in business that the more we pushed decisions down to the local level, the better decisions got made, because they understood the environment there better than we did back at the main office.”

Ramsey has said he wants a focus on small business as governor, to the point he wants every department in state government thinking about it.

He relies on personal experience, where after attending East Tennessee State University and wanting to be self-employed he knew he had to work for someone for two years to get a license as a surveyor. His plan was to put in his two years then immediately quit to go out on his own. That’s what he did.

“When it came time to leave, I said I would give them a two-weeks notice, but I was told, ‘Don’t bother. Go ahead,'” Ramsey said. So he left, and the next day his wife gave birth.

“I didn’t know where my paycheck was coming from. We started with only a pickup truck and a prayer,” Ramsey said.

So Ramsey says he understands the needs of small businesses.

Democrat Mike McWherter, a Jackson businessman, told an audience of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce last week he knows what the state’s priorities should be.

“Tennessee needs a governor who will put the creation and retention of jobs front and center on the agenda. That’s why I’m running for governor,” said McWherter, son of former Tennessee governor Ned McWherter. “Like you, I’m a business person, not a career politician. Like you, I understand what it is to make a payroll. Like you, I understand what it is to sit down and work out a health care plan for the year. Like you, I understand what it is to build a budget and live within that.

“If Tennessee is going to prosper, the next governor has got to be an individual with the skills and background who understands how to build this economy, how to create jobs and, I think most importantly, how to maintain jobs here in Tennessee.”

McWherter said it’s important to get greater accountability out of state government.

“I’ve spent my last 20 years in business creating jobs. In short, that’s what I’m all about. Job creation,” he said. “If we’re going to turn this economy around here at home, we’ve got to put Tennesseans to work, and we’ve got to put Tennessee businesses first.

“If you run an existing business in Tennessee, I have a message for you. I know you’re struggling. But help is on the way.”

McWherter’s Democratic opponent, former legislator Kim McMillan, speaks frequently of the need to capitalize on partnerships like the one at Austin Peay State University and the new Hemlock Semiconductor business in Clarksville, focusing on green technology jobs.

Republican candidate Zach Wamp, a member of Congress from Chattanooga, says that in 10 years the state should go from third to first in automotive manufacturing, and from third to first in energy technologies, including green energy.

He’s fond of saying, “If someone doesn’t make it, build it or grow it, you can’t service it or sell it.”

Wamp also sees an opportunity for job creation in a sector many Tennesseans don’t even think about. He wants to establish a defense corridor, capitalizing on the state’s military assets and using them as an opportunity to establish even more jobs. Wamp says a line of Tennessee military businesses and study centers would fall between Huntsville, Ala., and Fort Campbell, Ky.

Republican Bill Gibbons, district attorney general in Shelby County, focuses on the state’s standing in the region.

“I want to make sure we are above the Southeast average in per capita income,” Gibbons said. “Right now we’re about $1,000 below it and $5,000 below the national average. I think an achievable goal is to be above the Southeast average by the end of the first term. We also have an under-employment problem. The job of governor is to create a climate for economic growth, more good-paying jobs. The jobs have to come from the private sector, but the governor can lead the way in creating that climate for economic growth.”

Gibbons said the climate includes keeping taxes low, providing infrastructure for growth, reducing red tape in state government and to “go after the growth industries of the future.”

Business and Economy Environment and Natural Resources Liberty and Justice News

Republicans Energized about Nuclear Power; Democrats by Green Jobs

All four Republican candidates for governor expressed support Wednesday for ramping up nuclear power as part of the state’s energy future in a forum before the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce.

Two Democratic candidates spoke in a separate session with members of the organization prior to the Republicans taking their turn at a downtown Nashville forum Wednesday. The Democrats were not asked about nuclear energy, but they addressed green energy as a vital part of the state’s economic future.

Republicans were asked specifically about coal and nuclear power. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, from Blountville, said the nation took a wrong turn on nuclear energy decades ago.

“One of the worst mistakes we’ve ever made in this country, in the late 1970s, was turning away from nuclear energy,” Ramsey said. “I had a chance to go to work building one of those plants, yet we mothballed that and we’ve gone backward. We need to look at nuclear energy, coal and natural gas. Green energy is all well and good, but it’s going to be a small percentage. We’ve got to know when you turn the light switch on that the lights will come on.”

Ramsey said the state should continue to rely on coal and find the best ways to obtain it.

“We have to rely on good science. I mentioned that before at a forum and got criticized,” Ramsey said. “I’m opposed to mountaintop removal, but at the same time there are ways of getting to that coal, and we need to do it. Alternative fuels are out there but a lot is down the road. We’ve got 100 years of reserves in the ground, and that’s going to help us be energy independent.”

Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam said the approach should be to pursue a policy that includes nuclear power, solar power and wind power.

“But we also need to use less,” Haslam said. “In Knoxville, we looked at our own energy use, not only as good stewards of the environment, but we saved money. As a country, we do have to consider producing more energy domestically.”

Bill Gibbons, Shelby County district attorney general, said a diverse energy policy is needed and said Gov. Phil Bredesen has taken the state in the right direction with energy technology.

“We also need nuclear energy. We’ve got to be realistic about that,” Gibbons said. “It’s a clean source of energy. We’ve got to have that as part of the mix.”

U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp of Chattanooga complimented the Obama administration for its openness to nuclear energy.

“We need to build another hundred nuclear reactors as a nation in the next 20 years,” Wamp said.

Referring to both President Barack Obama and Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Wamp said, “I’m frankly glad they realize if they want to meet any of their carbon goals they have to have an ambitious nuclear plan, and I think they’re starting to get that drift.”

Democrats Mike McWherter, a Jackson businessman, and Kim McMillan, a former state legislator and aide to Bredesen, pointed to the potential in jobs related to new investment in polycrystalline silicon in the state. Hemlock Semiconductor and Wacker Chemie are making large investments in Tennessee. Both Democrats said the focus should be on attracting suppliers for those companies. Hemlock will be in Montgomery County, Wacker in Bradley County.

“We’re all very proud of the work Governor Bredesen has done in green energy,” McMillan said. “That is the job of the future. We need to bring in other satellite industries to feed off them. That’s where the growth will be. We can grow this economy by focusing on the green energy field. I’m excited about the possibility of becoming the Silicon Valley of the South.”

McWherter found a bright spot to talk about.

“In so many ways, Tennessee lags many other states, but I want to brag on Tennessee,” McWherter said. “We’re among the top three states in creating clean energy jobs. They are Oregon, Colorado and Tennessee. That’s a great accomplishment. That’s a position I want to see Tennessee stay in.

“The suppliers that will come in for Hemlock and Wacker will want to locate in a corridor between Clarksville and Chattanooga. What we’ve got to do is go out and actively recruit those supplying industries for those two signature companies. As your next governor, I assure you I will go after those industries very aggressively.”

McWherter said all Tennesseans are invested in those companies, given the tax incentives that attracted them to the state.

“I don’t care where you live in Tennessee, you’ve got an investment in Volkswagen and Wacker and Hemlock. You pay taxes, and we have given tax incentives. You’ve got an investment,” McWherter said.

“The way to get a return is to go out and capture these supplying industries. Once we get those industries in here, they will employ people,” he added. “That makes their employees consumers, and that helps the revenue situation for everyone across the state. It is imperative that the next governor knows to go out and recruit those supplying industries.”

Business and Economy News Tax and Budget Transparency and Elections

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.

Sparks Fly at Debate: GOP Rivals Try to Burn Haslam on Fuel Company Ties

A couple Republican candidates for governor used rival Bill Haslam as an onstage punching bag Thursday, harping on his refusal to release details about his personal income from his family business.

GOP hopeful Bill Gibbons, Shelby County’s district attorney, called the Knoxville mayor out during a gubernatorial debate in downtown Nashville for not revealing how much income he earns from Pilot Corp., the truck-stop chain the Haslams have built into something of a national gas- and diesel-station empire.

“Frankly, he has a conflict of interest, because every time the state of Tennessee has a major highway project, Pilot Oil has an interest. He doesn’t want us to know the scope of that conflict of interest,” said Gibbons.

Congressman Zach Wamp didn’t want to miss out on the action, and he, too, took a poke at Haslam when the opportunity arose.

He didn’t name any names, but it was obvious to everyone in the room who Wamp was referring to when he opined that transparency should begin before being elected to office.

“On Wall Street, they say too big to fail. And I wonder here if one family or one corporation is too big to be held accountable like everyone else,” he said.

Haslam declined to share his details about his personal income. But he didn’t hesitate to fire back at his detractors for what he described as their seeming sleights to his family’s entrepreneurialism and success.

“It bothers me to hear somebody say a Tennessee company that started as a small business has grown to be a national company, that there’s something wrong with that,” said Haslam.

Haslam is the only Republican candidate who so far hasn’t release personal income records as requested by a band of Tennessee’s large newspapers. Those records are not public and are not required to be released to run for political office.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who is also running in the August primary election, stayed out of the Haslam-centered spat.

Also participating in the debate co-hosted by the Tennessee Press Association and The Associated Press were Senate Democrat Leader Jim Kyle, former House Democrat Leader Kim McMillan and Jackson businessman Mike McWherter.