By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Haslam has added a new detail to his oft-told anecdote about his wife Crissy’s high school boyfriend.
He acknowledged Tuesday the story isn’t true.
Haslam has been warming up crowds before his speeches with a story about a chance encounter with a former boyfriend named Ernie who’s now a convenience store clerk.
The story is peppered with references to the governor’s two-year campaign for office and to the family-owned Pilot Flying J truck stop chain, where Haslam was president before embarking on a political career.
“She gets up to the cashier, and they give each other this huge hug,” Haslam said in Tuesday’s speech. “And they weren’t at a Pilot, so I’m thinking, wait a minute.”
The punchline involves the governor asking about what would have happened had Crissy Haslam had instead married Ernie.
“And she said, ‘Well, then Ernie would be the governor!'” Haslam said to uproarious laughter.
Reporters who noticed differences in Haslam’s retelling of the story asked the Republican governor after the appearance whether Ernie was real.
“No!” Haslam responded with a laugh.
“It’s an old story, I can’t remember where it came from,” he said. “I think maybe originally it was a Bill and Hillary Clinton, from about 20 years ago.”
In an episode of the former NBC series “The West Wing,” the fictional president tells a staffer a similar story about a ditch digger, but is advised against using it in public.
Haslam told reporters that he’s always on the lookout for new lighthearted anecdotes to work into his public appearances, “because I keep telling the same ones over and over again.”
Note: Jeff Woods has full quotes (and some commentary) on the Haslam remarks.
“Is Ernie real?”
“Noooooooooooo,” Haslam said, shamelessly, as if it were a stupid question.
“You mean that story just sprang from your fertile imagination?” a shocked Pith asked.
No, Haslam said, he stole the anecdote from somewhere. He said he thinks Bill Clinton used to tell it about Hillary.
“You mean, there’s some kind of political joke book that you guys steal from?”
“If there is, I need one because I keep telling the same ones over and over,” the governor replied.
And here, from Woodsie, is the Ernie story as told by the governor.
People ask all the time well how do the two of you like your job? And we do. We love it. We both love what we get to do. It does take an adjustment. We went during the campaign hustling across the state and occasionally wondering about state troopers in our rearview mirror to having state troopers driving you everywhere, which is a lot more convenient.
So every now and then instead of being late we are actually early. And so we were going somewhere about four or five weeks ago and it was Crissie and me and the state trooper driving, and Crissie said, ‘Hey, if we have time I’d love to stop in and grab a Diet Coke somewhere.’
And so he pulls into a convenience store real quick, and I said, ‘I’m fine.’ I was on the phone, and so Crissie runs in. And through the front window of the convenience store, I could see her. And she gets up to the cashier and they give each other this huge hug. We weren’t at a Pilot, so I’m thinking, ‘What’s going on?’ She comes back in the car and I said, ‘What was that all about?’ And she says, ‘What are you talking about?’ And I said, ‘With the cashier?’
And she said, ‘Oh, that was Ernie.’ And I said, ‘Ernie?’ And she said, ‘Yeah, Ernie, my high school boyfriend.’ And I said, ‘Oh, OK.’ And I turned and kind of looked out the window, and I must have been smiling or something. And she said, ‘What are you smiling about?’
And I said I was thinking, ‘What if you’d married Ernie?’ And she said, ‘Well then, Ernie would be the governor.’