Gov. Bill Haslam defended his administration Tuesday against critics from within his own party, saying those who want him to rid state government of Democrats, gays and a Muslim don’t represent the views of most Tennessee Republicans.
From Michael Collins:
“Recent polls show that people who self-identify as conservative Republicans – 80 percent supported us,” Haslam said, referring to a Vanderbilt University poll released in May. “So I think you have to put it in that context.”
Asked what might be motivating his GOP critics, Haslam said, “I certainly can’t get inside their heads to understand.”
But he suggested the criticism is unfair and said his administration continues “to focus on the things that I think people elected us to do – bring jobs to Tennessee, keep improving our education system, run the government as effectively and as efficiently as we can.”
Haslam, a former Knoxville mayor who is in his second year as governor, has come under attack in recent weeks from a dozen or so self-described “Republican activists” who are urging county party organizations to adopt resolutions condemning his hiring decisions. At least eight county party groups have adopted such resolutions.
Haslam’s critics also are urging the Republican State Executive Committee to take some action against the governor.
The crux of the critics’ complaint is that Haslam has failed to rid state government of Democrats and gays in key positions, such as those working in the Department of Children’s Services. The groups also have blasted the governor for hiring Samar Ali as director of international marketing with the Department of Economic and Community Development.
A resolution passed by the Stewart County Republican Party called Ali “an expert in Shariah Compliant Finance, which is one of the many ways Islamic terrorism is funded.” It also noted that she is a one-time appointee of President Barack Obama — she served in a White House fellowship program — and that her family has a long history of supporting the Democratic Party.
Speaking after his appearance before a congressional panel in Washington on Tuesday, Haslam said Ali is highly qualified for the state job and “we’re lucky to have her in Tennessee.”
“She is somebody who could literally have jobs a whole lot of places, and she chose to come to her home state and serve,” he said.
Haslam noted that Ali was the class president of her high school in Dickson, Tenn.; student council president at Vanderbilt University; and a member of the 4-H Club while growing up. “She is as Tennessee as they come,” he said, “and I just think (the criticism) is unfair, quite frankly.”
The county GOP critics also have complained that Haslam has kept 85 percent of former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen’s appointees to executive jobs. But Haslam said incoming governors have historically held over people in those jobs from the previous administration.
“In the end, I think it is about how do we get the very best people to work for the state of Tennessee,” he said.
UPDATE: The Nashville City Paper has a profile of sorts on Ali, including her comments on being an Arab-American after 9/11. An excerpt is below.
Excerpt from a Nashville City Paper story:
A standout student at Waverly Central High, where she excelled on their Model U.N. team, she went on to attend Vanderbilt. On September 11, 2001, when words now being hurled at her, like “jihad” and “Islamic terrorism,” were forced into the American lexicon, she was a junior, majoring in political science and serving as an officer in the Middle Eastern Students Club. On Sept. 13, she addressed those gathered at the university’s “Come Together” service.
“I was asked to speak to you all today as an Arab-American Muslim,” she said. “All I know to do is to tell you something from my heart, and my heart is filled with pride to be a student of this amazing Vanderbilt community. Look at us; we are a family. I am proud to be an American and to feel the patriotism right here, right now.”
As a Muslim, she said, she was upset and wondered how anyone could carry out such horrors in the name of her religion. She said she had received more than 40 phone calls on the day of the attacks, from “Arab Americans, Palestinians, and people in Syria and Jordan.” She concluded by looking to the future.
“We cannot let these terrorists succeed and fill our hearts with hatred,” she said. “We cannot allow them to split us apart as Americans. We must come together; we have come so far. We must not fight hate with hate.”
She continued, “The people who did this are a disgrace to mankind. While they claim to be fundamentalist Muslims, they are of no religion at all. I know of no true religion that celebrates a loss of lives. Islam condemns these acts. The people who did this do not represent any true religion or any ethnic group. These are individual attacks, and they are horrific and absolutely terrifying and must be prevented.”
Ali eventually served as Vanderbilt’s first Arab-Muslim student body president. While still in school she was a law clerk at Stites and Harbison. She graduated with a degree in political science with honors, and three years later received a J.D. from Vanderbilt Law School. After school, she spent time clerking at the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals and at the South African Supreme Court of Appeal.