By posting a call for the election of Mitt Romney on a state website, Gov. Bill Haslam has drawn criticism from a Democratic Party official and a government watchdog.
“Now it’s up to Tennesseans and Americans to turn their attention to the November election. By electing Mitt Romney, we can be sure the entire law will be repealed,” Haslam said at the end of a statement giving his thoughts on the U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld most of the federal Affordable Health Care Act.
The statement was read aloud by Haslam and posted on the governor’s state government website, where it remained over the weekend, as well as on YouTube. His communications office also emailed the text to reporters, who has solicited his comment on the court ruling.
Asked Friday whether it was appropriate to push a presidential candidate through state equipment, Haslam replied, “As the governor, people want to know how you think about things.”
“I didn’t send it out on state email to all our employees or anything” he said. “As governor they say, ‘What do you think?’ And that’s what I think about it.”
Though apparently the governor was unaware of it at the time, the text statement was emailed to employees of the TennCare bureau by its director, Darin Gordon, according to Brandon Puttbrese, spokesman for the state Democratic Party. He said a state employee who felt “intimidated” by the emailed statement forwarded a copy to the party. Puttbrese provided it to reporters.
Alexia Poe, the governor’s communications director, said Haslam did not run afoul of a state law that in general prohibits the use of state property and equipment for political purposes.
“The governor gave his public response/opinion that was distributed as usual,” she said in an email, adding that she understood Gordon forwarded the governor’s statement to employees for “informational purposes.”
Puttbrese and Dick Williams, president of Common Cause in Tennessee, both stopped short of saying the governor violated the law. But both were critical.
“Taxpayer money should never be wasted on political campaigning. It’s an abuse of power that cheats Tennesseans and intimidates state workers,” said Puttbrese in an email.
Williams said in an interview that the posting of Haslam’s statement on policy concerning the Supreme Court ruling was “perfectly legitimate,” but it was “unfortunate and inappropriate” to throw in a political position statement and then have it posted on a state website or forwarded to state employees via the state’s email system.
“He combined a legitimate statement on public policy with an appeal for a political outcome,” Williams said. “I don’t know that it can be, or should be, prosecuted as a formal violation. But I wish he could have just stuck to the policy issues.”
Note: This updates, expands and replaces a previous post.