Muslim-American, focus of 2012 anti-Haslam flap, leaves ECD position

Samar Ali, whose position as a top state Department of Economic and Community Development set off criticism of Gov. Bill Haslam by some Tennessee Republicans and tea party groups in 2012, has left state government and joined a prominent Nashville law firm, reports the Commercial Appeal.

Ali, a Muslim-American born and raised in Waverly, Tenn. by two medical doctors and a former student body president at Vanderbilt University, has joined the Bone McAllester Norton law firm where she will focus on international, corporate and administrative law. She earned undergraduate and law degrees from Vanderbilt and later served as a White House Fellow.

But her hiring by the Haslam administration as director and later assistant commissioner for international affairs at ECD set off a frenzy of opposition in 2012. Eight Tennessee Republican county committees and several tea party groups passed resolutions assailing the hire as proof the governor was making the state’s economic development agency “compliant with Sharia law,” a moral code and religious law of the Muslim faith.

One group blasted Haslam in a billboard within sight of the State Capitol. Another group set up a website called “billhislam.com.” Through it all, the governor defended Ali as an asset to the state and dismissed charges of a Sharia-compliant ECD as ridiculous.

The governor’s spokesman, David Smith, said Tuesday Ali left state government nearly a year ago, with no announcement. The law firm announced her hiring Tuesday.

“We are delighted to welcome Samar Ali to our firm,” said Charles W. Bone, the firm’s founder and chairman. “She is an amazing young attorney with tremendous energy and passion for strengthening our communities and helping people.”