On Haslam’s $100K ‘Chairman’s Circle’ and other reelection preparations

Gov. Bill Haslam seems assured of re-election to a new term next year, but he’s taking no chances and indicating some concern over how developments in the 2014 legislative session, according to a review of campaign-related doings by Chas Sisk.

The Haslam campaign is preparing a major fundraiser in Nashville early next year with a top donor’s circle of $100,000, an escalation in the money battle even as Democrats struggle to find a credible challenger. Meanwhile, the governor has used the clear field to burnish his image, casting himself as a government reformer and pragmatic politician focused on lifting the state’s economy and education systems.

…In a speech last week to a packed meeting of the influential Rotary Club of Nashville, Haslam offered a rebuttal of sorts in describing his approach.
“You make the right policy decisions in light of a very difficult political environment,” he said.

Haslam’s appearance Monday at the Rotary Club may have offered several clues as to how the governor plans to make the case for his re-election.

Haslam presented himself to the crowd of Middle Tennessee business leaders as one of their own. He declared that he had shaken up state government by bringing in a private-sector perspective, sometimes to his political detriment.

“The easiest thing in the world to do is to leave things just the way that they are,” he said. “It’s when you change things that … you start getting lots of questions.”.

…The appearance also allowed him to address some of the potential political liabilities lying in his path. Without mentioning that his administration had come under fire for contracting work to the Chicago-based real estate advisory firm Jones Lang LaSalle — a company the governor invested in before taking office in 2011 — Haslam said he had learned during his first term that he could not make decisions as if he were the head of a private business.

“Process matters a lot more in public office than it does in business,” he said. “It is different when you deal with the public’s money. You have to get used to that when you come into a job like this.”

Days after the speech, the Haslam administration would ask the State Building Commission to “wind down” a portion of the Jones Lang LaSalle deal. But it did so only after a push to expand the relationship fell flat with Republican legislative leaders.

…Haslam does not seem to face much risk of a primary challenge, but he still is taking no chances. On the morning state lawmakers return to Nashville, Haslam will hold a “pre-session re-election breakfast” at the Omni Nashville Hotel. The event starts at $1,000 a person.

For this year’s campaign, the Haslam team has created a new “Chairman’s Circle” level for fundraisers who commit to bring in $100,000.

“I don’t think that he will have a credible opponent,” predicted Ramsey, who said he will go to the event. “But the governor at the same time needs to make sure he has the cash on hand to ward off an opponent.”