On What Excites Haslam as He Walks a Fine Line

Gov. Bill Haslam poinfed out to Stateline that there has been a dramatic increase in the number of consultants working for the Tennessee Department of Transportation. And that is used to make a point in contrating Haslam to some other Republican governors.
The problem, Haslam explains, is that the state instituted a hiring freeze and a salary freeze a few years ago. When engineers left, the state couldn’t replace them. So it hired consultants, including some of the same engineers who had just left. “It ended up costing us two or three times as much,” Haslam tells Stateline. “Well, that’s crazy. We think we can take, of that money, a good chunk of it and refurbish a bridge and build a new road.”
“This,” Haslam says, “is the kind of stuff that I get excited about.”
That alone makes him unusual among recently installed Republican governors. For most of the others in his GOP class of 2010, excitement has meant having Democratic opponents flee the state as a delaying tactic, showing up on vice presidential short lists and leading the national news. Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, South Carolina’s Nikki Haley, Florida’s Rick Scott and Maine’s Paul LePage, among others, quickly became national stars, symbols or pariahs — depending on one’s perspective.
With very little notice outside Tennessee’s borders, however, Haslam has had as much success enacting an ambitious agenda as any new governor over the last two years. One reason he has received little attention is that his priorities–government management, economic development and education, to the exclusion of almost everything else–reflect someone who gets excited about state budget line items, not national politics.
…Haslam’s most prominent role on the national stage so far hasn’t been as a Republican attack dog. It’s been as a lead advocate for a key bipartisan priority of governors and state legislators: federal legislation to require online retailers to collect state sales taxes. Haslam has been an eager supporter of Mitt Romney in both the Republican primary and the general election, but he still praises the Obama administration for its work on charter schools and teacher evaluations.
…What is clear is that Haslam will have to continue walking a fine line if he wants to appeal to his party’s most fervent conservatives and its more moderate members while advancing his ambitious plans. The next topic the governor wants to tackle is higher education. He says the state needs to address the “iron triangle” of cost, quality and access. But it’s a certainty that cultural issues will continue to intrude.
Haslam, true to form, downplays the differences. “Are there people within the party that come from all different perspectives? Sure,” he says. “But I don’t think there’s any sense that within the Tennessee Republican Party there’s this great divide and this battle for the soul of the party. I don’t think that.”

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