Haslam: No ‘immediate removal’ of Huffman; no decision on next year’s cabinet

Gov. Bill Haslam says he will ignore for this year a call for “immediate removal” of Kevin Huffman as commissioner of education from 15 Republican legislators, but has made no decision on keeping Huffman or any other cabinet members for a second term if reelected in November.

Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale, one of the lawmakers signing the letter, told the Nashville Post that if Huffman remains next year he will face continuing criticism from legislators and, “We may even file legislation demanding his removal.”

“Everything’s still on the table. It’s up to the governor right now. The ball’s in his court, we’ll see what he does,” said Womick, who had been a leading critic of Common Core standards.

Haslam, who returned from a “trade mission” trip to Japan and South Korea on Friday, said in a brief interview Saturday that he was “really disappointed” with the letter. In his absence on the trip, a spokesman called it a “political stunt,” but Haslam declined to agree – or disagree — with that label Saturday when questioned on it.

“I was disappointed in the sense that we had said, ‘Let’s sit down and talk about it,’ and they said they’re rather send a letter instead,” he said. “There are better ways to deal with things than send a letter and a press release.”

The governor said he has confidence in Huffman and wants him to remain part of the administration through Haslam’s first term, which ends in January. After that?

“As I’ve said before, it’s too early to say what the cabinet will look like,’ he said. “We’ll sit down and talk with everybody, if and when we get elected.”

Haslam’s administration had released very little public information about his week-long trip to Asia. On Saturday he gave a bit more information and said he is optimistic that it will lead to new Asian business expansion in Tennessee.

“The proof is in the pudding, but I’ll tell you what: I thought we had a lot of great meetings with several companies,” he said.

Haslam said meetings included a reception at the U.S. embassy in Tokyo with more than 90 businesses represented and discussions with officials of both All Nippon Airways and Japan Air Lines, who are considering a launch of direct services between Nashville and Tokyo.

The governor and his wife, Crissy, were in Bell Buckle to act as “king and queen” of the “RC Kingdom” at the Bedford County town’s annual RC Cola and Moonpie Festival.