Gov. Bill Haslam doesn’t live in Knoxville anymore, but still considers it home and says that his hometown ties may provide some indirect benefit to those still living there.
“I love my job and we like being in Nashville,” he said. “But if people ask me where I’m from, I say I’m from Knoxville.”
He and his wife, Crissy, live in the state-owned executive residence in Nashville, which went through major remodeling and renovation initiated by his predecessor, former Gov. Phil Bredesen. But for legal purposes, including voting, he maintains his official residence in Knoxville.
Haslam visits the city he served as mayor fairly often — though not as much as he would like, he said in an interview.
A review of the governor’s public schedule indicates that Haslam’s trip to Knoxville to vote on Friday, Oct. 26, was the 41st publicly announced appearance at an event in Knox County since his inauguration on Jan. 15, 2011.
For comparison, Haslam has had 38 events in Shelby County at the other end of the state during the same time period. His wife, Crissy, grew up in Memphis and still visits family members there “as often as they can,” according to a spokesman.
In both Knox and Shelby counties, the count includes occasions where Haslam attended two or more events on the same day. He had events on 25 days in Knox County; 23 in Shelby County. The governor’s office has refused to make public Haslam’s private schedule, so no official count is available of time spent in Knoxville or elsewhere on all events.
In an interview, Haslam said he has not spent as much time in Knoxville as anticipated.
“We probably spend one out of every three or four (weekends) — oh, probably one of three — there. I thought we’d spend about one out of every two, which has been, as Crissy would tell you, no way! I’m not sure why that is, that’s just the reality,” he said.
Asked whether his Knoxville ties were a benefit to the city or to Knox County, Haslam likened the situation to Sen. Lamar Alexander’s response years ago when questioned about the impact of then-Sen. Bill Frist serving as U.S. Senate majority leader:
“It’s been good for the country and it hasn’t been too bad for Tennessee.”
The overall flow of state tax dollars to Knox County actually went down with the first state budget prepared with Haslam as governor, then rose with the second Haslam budget to a level higher than under Bredesen, according to figures from the Office of Legislative Budget Analysis.
In the 2010-11 fiscal year, the last budget prepared by Bredesen, Knox County received a total of $755,355,100 in state funding, the figures show. That dropped to $747,353,100 the following year, after Haslam took the budget reins, then rebounded to $768,684,100 in the current 2012-13 fiscal year.
Overall spending of state dollars in the budget increased in both the 2011-12 and 2012-13 fiscal years, according to the same source, though federal funds sent to the state went down in both years.
Does the overall increase indicate any favoritism”?
“I don’t know that would be true,” Haslam said. “I’d like to say that I can’t think of a situation where we funded a project because it’s in Knoxville. Hopefully, we funded it because it was a good project.”
The benefits to Knoxville of being the governor’s hometown are more subtle, he indicated.
“It obviously helps when you’re from somewhere, you understand the issues better,” Haslam said. “When Mayor (Madeline) Rogero or a business in Knoxville calls, there’s no learning curve to climb in terms of understanding the issue they’re talking about.”
He noted that Rogero, who succeeded him as mayor after losing to him in his initial race for the office, has kept “some of the top people who were top officials in the city” while he was mayor. And he pointed out that Larry Martin, who served as his mayoral chief of state, is now a senior adviser in his gubernatorial administration.
As an example of an issue he is familiar with because Knoxville relationship, Haslam cited negotiations over what the state will turn over to the city from properties that were part of Lakeshore Mental Health Center before it was closed.
He said Rogero and Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett have occasionally called him for advice.
“I probably talk to Madeline once every two or three weeks,” he said. “But, to be honest with you, I talk to A C Wharton (mayor of Memphis) at least that much. I talk to Karl Dean (mayor of Nashville) at least that much. There’s a lot of interaction with the mayors.”
A difference: “Madeline doesn’t have to educate me” (on background of the discussion topic).
A similar situation comes in politics for the governor, who is titular head of the surging Republican party in Tennessee.
Haslam is the first governor from Knoxville since William G. “Parson” Brownlow, who served from 1865-1869. In Brownlow’s Reconstruction era reign, former supporters of the Confederacy were denied the right to vote and former slaves won the right to vote. With that combination, Republicans controlled the governorship, both chambers of the state Legislature and all U.S. House and Senate seats in Tennessee. That situation ended with Reconstruction.
When Haslam became governor, he was the first since Brownlow to preside while Republicans held control of both the state House and Senate and both U.S. Senate seats. Democrats still hold two of the state’s nine U.S. House seats.