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TN GOP Sees Vote of Confidence in Wisconsin Recall Election

Republican leaders say the failed recall election in Wisconsin bodes well for GOP lawmakers here, who will face voters for the first time since overhauling hiring practices for teachers and state workers.

If anything, it says Tennessee is headed in the right direction, said Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey.

“The takeaway that I have is that the general public understands that we can’t be giving away the farm, so to speak, to public employees and expect to balance our budget,” said Ramsey, R-Blountville.

Last week, 53 percent of Wisconsin voters opted to keep embattled Republican Gov. Scott Walker in office after push back against changes to collective bargaining practices for most state workers.

The election was watched closely by politicians around the country as a litmus test for how far voters are willing to go with public-employee reforms. Tennessee politicians had particular reason to pay attention.

Since Republicans took charge of the governor’s office and both chambers of the Legislature in the 2010 election, Tennessee lawmakers have made broad changes to employee rules and significantly curbed union power.

Lawmakers replaced teachers’ collective bargaining practices with “collaborative conferencing” in 2011, giving school boards autonomy to establish hiring and personnel rules without needing to win union approval.

At the time, union advocates said they would punish lawmakers at the polls for weakening organized labor, at one point saying Republicans were advocating “fascists measures” and were engaging in “terrorism against our teachers.”

Attempts to reach pro-union leaders, including House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner, D-Old Hickory, and the Tennessee Education Association’s lobbyist, Jerry Winters, and executive director, Al Mance were unsuccessful as of this posting.

This year, lawmakers rewrote hiring and firing practices for state civil service workers by allowing the administration to put considerations like employee performance ahead of seniority when making personnel decisions.

With the primaries less than two months away, many lawmakers’ own job security now rests in the hands of the voters. House Speaker Beth Harwell is confident her party’s stance will be rewarded at the polls.

“I think we made a good public policy for the state of Tennessee, for the children of this state,” said Harwell, R-Nashville. “And I think Wisconsin actually verified that with their vote.”

Union influence in Wisconsin has always been much stronger than in Tennessee, noted Gov. Bill Haslam. But he says the voters’ clear-cut decision to keep Walker is a reflection of a changing attitude toward the financial responsibility of governments in general.

“We’re spending more than we bring in. We can’t do that forever,” the governor said. “Does the U.S. have the stomach to make the hard choices? I think you just saw Wisconsin say, ‘We do.’”

Business and Economy NewsTracker

Haslam on ‘Taking Care of the Customer’

Bill Haslam has spent the last two days swapping notes with fellow Republican governors across the country and wearing his business-minded leadership model on his sleeve.

Just a few miles away from Epcot in Orlando, Fla., the governor sat in on several panels at the Republican Governors Association conference, including one dissecting the political outlook going into the 2012 election – Florida is expected to be a swing state – and another about the directions Republican governors are taking their states.

“We talk about the customer all the time,” Haslam told a Thursday panel entitled Lessons from the States: How Republican Governors are Leading the Nation.

“You need to be taking care of the customer. You should know who that is, and we should take care of someone who is taking care of the customer.”

In a Thursday morning panel, Haslam joined Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. They talked about wanting flexibility in using federal dollars, how states have planned for the drop-off in stimulus funds, and philosophies behind running government.

The discussion was moderated by former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who this summer spoke at the annual Tennessee Republican Party Statesmen’s Dinner. Haslam has said Daniels is one of the first governors he turns to for input.

Note: Audio from the RGA session on “Lessons from the States: How Republican Governors are Leading the Nation” was provided to TNReport by a reporter for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.


Education NewsTracker

Big Apple-Bound Again

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam will do double duty in New York early this week, working on job creation while also appearing at the NBC event called the Education Nation Summit.

Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty and a small team from ECD will be along for the trip in an effort much like the jobs trek the governor made to California in early September.

“We’ve asked our ECD folks — Commissioner Hagerty and others — to put together three or four different groups of both site selection people and some existing businesses, so again we can continue to sell Tennessee,” Haslam said.

Hagerty said the New York trip will run Monday-Wednesday. Haslam is scheduled to appear at a Tennessee Downtown Partnership event Wednesday in Nashville at noon. First Lady Crissy Haslam is scheduled to join her husband at the education summit.

The NBC education event kicks off with a teachers’ town hall on Sunday and concludes with a session with former President Bill Clinton on Tuesday. Haslam said he would be part of two panels at the summit, one on K-12 education and another on completing college.

Hagerty said the Tennessee contingent got a positive reception when it traveled to California and that the group will meet in New York with companies that have private equity investments in Tennessee as well as companies that have not made investments in the state yet.

Haslam and Hagerty have repeatedly said the state is interested in growing businesses that already exist in the state as well as those they would like to attract to Tennessee.

The education summit is expected to include governors Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island; Nathan Deal of Georgia; Mary Fallin of Oklahoma; John Hickenlooper of Colorado; Paul LePage of Maine; Jack Markell of Delaware; Bob McDonnell of Virginia; Sean Parnell of Arkansas; and Scott Walker of Wisconsin.

Haslam is expected on Monday to participate in a discussion called “The State of Education: The Governor’s Perspective.” That session is expected to cover a variety of educational issues and include questions from teachers, principals, parents and students.

Haslam was invited to introduce President Barack Obama last Friday at the White House for the president’s announcement of a new approach to the federal No Child Left Behind Law. Obama is scheduled to give his third annual “Back To School” speech on Wednesday at a high school in Washington.