Haslam: ‘Is there any secret where I stand on things?’

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
FRANKLIN, Tenn. — Republican Gov. Bill Haslam says he sees little reason to make explicit declarations about his positons on issues in order to claim a mandate in a second term.

Haslam faces political unknown Democratic nominee Charlie Brown, who has reported no fundraising activity since joining the race. Given the expected wide margin of victory, observers have questioned why the governor has decided to run a feel-good ad narrated by children instead of seeking political insulation for controversial issues like his support of Common Core education standards, a modified plan for Medicaid expansion and an overhaul of Tennessee’s gas tax.

“I’m not quite sure I understand the argument,” Haslam told The Associated Press during a weekend visit to a chili cook-off in Franklin. “After four years, is there any secret where I stand on things?”

Haslam earlier this year faced an insurrection among lawmakers from his own party over Common Core and related testing requirements. Tea party-leaning Republicans in the House led the effort to delay the implementation of Common Core standards and testing by two years, though Haslam managed to turn most of those changes back after a concerted public relations campaign.

Haslam is almost certain to face future efforts to undercut Common Core, a set of education standards developed by governors, but increasingly derided as federal government overreach.

“The issue around Common Core is that means so many different things to people,” Haslam said. “This past week I had a 30-minute conversation with a woman who was convinced that Common Core was putting sex education in kindergarten.

“Well it has nothing to do with that, but I couldn’t budge her off of that,” he said.

The governor said he wants to decrease the focus on the Common Core name “that there’s a lot of misconception about.”

“We’re going to go back to saying, what are those things we agree on?” he said. “We agree on higher standards, we agree on more rigor.”

Haslam’s ongoing talks with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services about a special deal for Medicaid expansion in Tennessee have also been met with skepticism — and in some cases outright hostility — from fellow Republicans in the Legislature.

Lawmakers this year enacted legislation that supporters called the “Stop Obamacare Act” that requires the governor to get their OK on any deal on Medicaid expansion, and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville and fellow Republican Senate Judiciary Chairman Brian Kelsey of Germantown have expressed strong reservations about Haslam’s ongoing efforts.

“I don’t see any way possible that the people’s representatives will vote to allow Obamacare and Medicaid expansion in Tennessee,” Kelsey told the AP in September.

Haslam told reporters last week that transportation funding will be a “serious challenge” that the state will need to face as soon as in the next year. The state’s 21.4-cents-per-gallon gas tax hasn’t been raised since 1989, and the state is struggling to meet its road building and maintenance needs. But lawmakers have been loathe to embrace any sort to tax hike.

Haslam said he doesn’t see any extra need to try to consolidate his position in relation to state lawmakers during the ongoing campaign.

“What I keep coming back to is that you’re in office four years, you run, hopefully you get re-elected, and then you come back and keep on doing the same things you said you were going to do,” he said.