Gov. Bill Haslam tells the Tennessean there was there was nothing political about his decision to miss President Obama’s recent visit to Nashville and that he once accidentally warmed the president’s seat in Memphis.
The governor, a Republican, told The Tennessean’s editorial board this week that he expects to see the Democratic president three times in the next few weeks. He’ll go to the White House next week for an event he declined to describe, and he’ll see Obama twice during the National Governors Association meeting in Washington this month.
Haslam said he had planned to greet Obama on the tarmac at Berry Field Air National Guard Base before the president gave a speech at McGavock High School on Jan. 30. But when Obama’s schedule changed and Air Force One’s arrival was pushed back more than an hour, Haslam decided to keep a dinner appointment on an out-of-state economic development trip instead.
The governor noted that he introduced Obama at an education event in the East Room of the White House in September 2011, a gathering that produced photos of the two men standing together.
“It had zero to do with politics,” he said of missing the president’s Nashville visit. “We actually have worked with them in some really big ways. I don’t agree with a whole lot of things; I’ll be really clear about that. But the idea that I would just try to, for some political message, not go is just wrong.”
…Haslam was on hand, however, when the president came to Memphis in 2011. That was where he landed in an awkward situation while settling into his seat in the presidential limousine for a ride to Booker T. Washington High School.
“No matter who you are, Air Force One pulls up and you’re standing there, it’s pretty impressive,” Haslam said. “The president bounds off. We start talking, and he says, ‘Well, just ride with me in the car.’ So the Secret Service comes over. They’re very direct. It’s a ‘yes, sir, no, sir’ deal. They say, ‘You sit left, facing front. He’ll sit right, facing front.’
“I’d hurt my back, so as I get in the car, there’s a console between his seat and my seat,” Haslam said. “I’m kind of lowering myself down there. Well, I accidentally turn on his seat warmers on high. And I see him, and he’s at that same time getting in. I’m thinking, ‘OK, do I just do nothing? Do I lean over and say, ‘Excuse me, Mr. President, I just turned your seat warmers on high’? Or do I casually try to flick them off real quick and act like he won’t see?
“So I thought, I’ll just punch them off real quick. Unfortunately, they were on high, so it took me three punches. And he looked at me like, ‘What are you doing with my seat warmers?’ ”