NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday he will rise above name-calling after speakers at a tea party rally over the weekend called him weak on efforts to do away with teachers’ collective bargaining rights in Tennessee.
At the rally outside the Capitol on Saturday, the speakers likened Haslam to the late children’s television host Fred Rodgers and to former Republican Gov. Don Sundquist because he has taken a neutral stance on the collective bargaining proposal.
“You know, we’re going to be with people that are trying to fix problems, and I’m never going to be part of the name-calling deal,” Haslam told The Associated Press. “I don’t think that helps anybody.”
The Republican governor’s comments came after a ceremony at the state Capitol to swear in Jim Henry as commissioner of the new state Department of Intellectual Disabilities. Henry’s starting date had been delayed because he was undergoing cancer treatments.
Haslam noted that he was also criticized at a far larger rally on the same day at the Capitol by labor groups opposed to any change in the state’s collective bargaining laws. Haslam’s own education initiatives include efforts to impose more rigorous standards for teachers to gain and keep tenure, and to lift a cap on enrollment at charter schools.
The Tennessee Tea Party in a newsletter on Monday said their protest had succeeded in preventing letting “the union hoards rule the day.” But supporters were warned that the Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, had “pumped up their base” at the rally.
Opponents of collective bargaining are being urged to attend a House subcommittee hearing on Wednesday where the bill is scheduled to be heard. The Tennessee Tea Party identified three Republican members of the panel that require lobbying: Reps. Ron Lollar of Bartlett, Harry Brooks of Knoxville and Richard Montgomery of Sevierville.
“We need to send these three e-mails with messages of encouragement and support and not threats and intimidation,” according the newsletter.