From Chas Sisk:
When Gov. Bill Haslam strode into the chamber for a joint session of the state legislature Wednesday morning, few in the room knew how he planned to resolve perhaps the biggest dilemma he has faced since being sworn into office in 2011.
More than halfway through his speech, many still weren’t sure.
As the governor darted and bobbed through the arguments over whether to expand TennCare, Democrats shifted anxiously in their chairs. They had planned to walk out of the chamber if Haslam announced he would reject expansion and the federal money that went with it.
Republicans sat back with arms folded, seemingly unimpressed with his arguments. Some failed to applaud when the governor at last delivered the verdict they’d hoped for.
By announcing he would not add more of the poor to TennCare — but would continue bargaining with federal officials — Haslam managed to defuse, at least for now, a controversy that could have blown up in his face.
As he has many times before, Haslam emerged unscathed — largely by finding ways to avoid confrontation. Such searches for a middle path have served him well, helping to push his approval rating over 60 percent and producing a string of legislative victories.
This year, Haslam has emerged unscathed from the fight between business groups and the National Rifle Association over whether Tennesseans should be able to leave handguns in their parked vehicles. The bill he signed into law this month appeared to mollify both sides, in part because it left unclear whether companies could fire employees for violating no-gun policies.
Similarly, Haslam has not had to repeat last year’s veto of a measure punishing Vanderbilt University for its nondiscrimination policy. Instead, he has been able to wait out the debate until the bill sank under an attorney general’s opinion it would not hold up in court.
…”The way for a governor to remain popular in Tennessee is to govern from the political center,” said Ken Blake, a journalism professor at Middle Tennessee State University and director of that school’s poll. “It seems to be working well so far for Haslam.”
…If Democrats were robbed of a dramatic confrontation, so were some of the GOP lawmakers to Haslam’s right a few hours later, when debate was finally taken up on a measure that would have barred him from expanding TennCare.
A committee quickly amended Senate Bill 804 to give Haslam the flexibility he sought to negotiate with federal officials. The House version was pushed back to next year’s calendar.
By day’s end, Haslam had sidestepped two showdowns on one of the few issues that could have hurt him deeply.
From Chas Sisk: