By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Haslam’s first four years in office included a struggle to exert authority over fellow Republicans in the Legislature on issues ranging from Common Core education standards to Medicaid expansion.
But looking back on his first term after his landslide re-election on Tuesday, the Republican governor said there was no instance where he would have acted differently.
“There’s nothing that I look back and say, ‘Oh, we really took the wrong approach to that,'” Haslam said. “There’s things where you always say we could do better and we will focus on doing it better.”
Haslam defeated Democrat Charlie Brown — who didn’t have any organized campaign structure and raised no money — by a margin of 70 percent to 23 percent, becoming the first candidate to win all 95 counties in Tennessee since then-Gov. Phil Bredesen’s re-election in 2006.
The governor in his victory speech pledged to “double down” on the policies of his first term, especially in the realm of education standards that have come under fire from tea party-leaning lawmakers critical of Common Core.
“I think one thing we all agree on is that high standards matter,” Haslam told reporters afterward. “And that’s what you’re going to see me kind of really being firm and strong on is that we’re not going to back up in terms of our expectations for our students.”
But taking a hard line with recalcitrant lawmakers hasn’t been Haslam’s usual way of doing business in his first term. Haslam’s administration was slow taking shape following his 2011 inauguration, and fellow Republicans in the Legislature quickly grabbed the initiative.
Haslam has tried to increase his assertiveness ever since, but even his some of his signature proposals have required a full-court press from administration officials to pass — sometimes in much watered-down form.
Republicans last session enacted legislation to require Haslam to seek their approval before striking any deal on Medicaid expansion, making it all the more difficult for the governor. And the governor was forced last session to embark on a statewide public relations blitz to counter an insurrection against Common Core and related testing requirements in the state House.
When allies of the governor formed a political action committee to support opponents of Haslam’s harshest critics in the August primary, it lead to a backlash from people such as Rep. Rick Womick, R-Murfreesboro, who labeled the chief executive a “traitor to the party.”
Womick in a recent letter to members of the Republican State Executive Committee decried what he called the unfair targeting of GOP legislators and members of the executive committee.
“Such actions do not comprise the character traits of great leader, but rather are the attributes of a well serving autocrat,” he said.
When pressed about what he would do overcome critics from his own party, Haslam said he’s now better equipped to deal with those challenges.
“I honestly do think that experience is a great teacher,” he said.