By Erik Schelzig,,Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Haslam is endorsing his brother’s right to speak out against privatizing interstate rest stops, a move opposed by his family’s truck stop chain.
The Republican governor has recused himself from handling issues that could affect Knoxville-based Pilot Flying J, but says brother Jimmy Haslam as president and CEO has a responsibility to try to influence politicians on matters that affect the business.
“He’s the CEO of a major Tennessee business that has their interests to defend,” Haslam said after a recent tour of a road project in Nashville. “And that’s nothing new: Pilot’s been talking about that, as has everybody else that has an interstate business — from McDonald’s to everybody — else for years.”
Gov. Bill Haslam says he has no problem with his brother and Pilot Flying J CEO, James “Jimmy” Haslam III, writing a letter against commercialization of highway rest stops and welcome centers, reports Mike Morrow. (Previous post HERE.)
“That was something I was involved in way before I became governor,” Bill Haslam said Friday of Pilot and the issue his brother addressed. “I don’t think that’s really on the radar in Tennessee anywhere anyway. So I don’t think it puts me in a difficult position.
“I think his point was, no matter what the business is, if you made an existing investment counting on a certain set of circumstances, the state wouldn’t sell its own right-of-way for other people to use. It’s not really fair to go back and change the law to give one person a preferred position there.”
,,,Bill Haslam was asked by a reporter Friday if his brother should shy away from taking public policy stands.
“No, he definitely shouldn’t,” the governor said. “He’s the CEO of a major Tennessee business that has their interest to defend.
“Actually, that’s nothing new. Pilot’s been talking about that, as has everybody else that has an Interstate-related business, from McDonald’s to everybody else, for years.”
The governor said the principle of the issue is about government changing the rules of the game after they’ve already been established.
“People who make investments off of Interstates and then the state comes in and takes its public right-of-way and lets a private company go into business there, I think the argument is just you’re changing the game,” Bill Haslam said.
James A. “Jimmy” Haslam III, CEO of Pilot Flying J and a board member of the National Truck Stop Operators Association, is urging state and federal lawmakers to block further “commercialization” of highway rest stops.
In his home state of Tennessee, where Haslam’s brother is governor, his viewpoint appears likely to prevail — at least for now. Several state legislators, while saying they are willing to explore the idea if it helps the state budget, also say they have no plans to push it.
And John Schroer, the commissioner of the state Department of Transportation appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam, is opposed to such rest stop privatization efforts in Tennessee.
Current federal law generally prohibits states from setting up commercial operations at rest stops along Interstate highways except those states — mostly in the Northeast — where Interstates were in place before 1960. But some states and organizations are pushing for change in the law by Congress at a time when state governments are seeking new revenue.
“While at first glance this may seem like an easy way for state DOTs to generate revenue, the fact is it will devastate private businesses like mine that for the last 50 years have operated under the current law and established locations at the highway exits,” said Haslam in his letter. “The advantageous location of state-owned commercial rest areas establishes virtual monopolies on the sale of commercial services to highway travelers.”