Sunday Column: Appreciating Gubernatorial Ire at Media

Things haven’t been go ing all that well for Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration lately on the media attention front, so maybe it was understandable that he expressed irritation last week when asked about ties to an East Tennessee developer who benefited from recently passed legislation.
“I want to say something: You all’s job is to ask questions, but it’s also your job to get the answer right,” he lectured reporters in the course of explaining why he is without fault in the situation. “Quite frankly, I think it’s a disservice when people imply something’s wrong when they know there’s nothing wrong.”
The Tennessean story that triggered gubernatorial ire reported that he would likely sign “a bill that would aid a personal business associate and overrule the city of Gatlinburg’s efforts to regulate moonshine distilleries.” The article quoted the developer in question, Ned Vickers, and others to the effect that Haslam had no connection to Vickers’ Gatlinburg distillery and that he hadn’t even seen Vickers in years.
But the governor saw an implication there and it made him mad — or at least as close to mad as our mild-mannered and gentlemanly chief executive ever gets in public.

Also last week, there were media questions, first raised by WTVF-TV, about Haslam’s trusted adviser, Tom Ingram, working as a lobbyist on state government issues and, coincidentally, failing to properly register for one of them through an “inadvertent oversight” now being corrected. The governor didn’t like that much, either. Ingram, he advised, “has never lobbied me, period!” He just consults and Haslam is paying him out of his own pocket, so it’s nobody’s business what he’s paying or exactly what Ingram is saying — except, well, it’s about politics and has nothing to do with state business. Any implication to the contrary is inappropriate, the governor implied.
Last week’s reporting also included questions about a no-bid contract awarded by the Haslam administration to Enterprise Rent-a-Car not long after the Department of General Services, which awarded the contract, hired a former Enterprise executive. The implication is that the department could have done better in spending taxpayer dollars if it shopped around — or, you might say, made things a bit more public.
Oh, and speaking of contracts, there was that $241 million contract the Department of Correction awarded to a company called Centurion after public bidding, even though another company made a bid for $16 million less. Coincidentally, Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield’s wife happens to work for Centurion, but nobody thought to make that public when the awarding was in the works. Perhaps inappropriate implications were made there, too.
And speaking of commissioners, two have resigned this year.
There was Kate O’Day making an exit at the Department of Children’s Services. There, media members had filed a lawsuit contending DCS was wrongfully hiding from the public information about the death of children in DCS custody. After a judge said some information had to be provided, DCS said, well, OK, we’ll give you that information and you give us $55,000. The governor defended the DCS billing, naturally. After all, if the governor personally pays Tom Ingram for information, you got to figure the media can pay for information, too.
And then there was Karla Davis, coincidentally departing as commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development for what the governor described as “family reasons” after an audit found a supposed $73 million foul-up and lawsuits were filed claiming racial discrimination.
All on top of long-standing media whining about his refusal to disclose amounts of his income when everybody knows where the money comes from in general: Pilot Flying J and a blind trust. That’s all we need to know, he says.
The governor’s understandable irritation at silly implications seems founded on the premise that government ought to be run more like a business, which must protect its secrets to be competitive in the free market. States compete with other states, you know.
Pilot Flying J, unfortunately, has had some negative attention, too, lately. But fortunately, it can hire Tom Ingram for an undisclosed sum.
Anything else would be a disservice, right?

Leave a Reply