Andrea Zelinski has a rambling review of Gov. Bill Haslam’s gubernatorial performance, starting with the proposition that he’ has the “Teflon-like qualities” of Bill Clinton and proceeding through quoted commentary from folks including a Democratic operative (it’s not Teflon, it’s an “oil slick”), Zach Wamp, Tom Ingram and Haslam himself.
Excerpts: Haslam’s colleagues say he researches almost every decision he has to make and seeks out opinions from people in those fields before coming to a conclusion. But other times, those strategies open him up to criticism for being indecisive, lacking backbone or for testing the political waters before making a call.
“I’m sure a lot of people go, ‘Just make up your mind, buddy.’ Or, ‘You’re trying to wait to see where the wind blows,’ etc.,” Haslam told The City Paper.
“I don’t take this job lightly, in the sense I realize it does come with a lot of weight. Sometimes I have the very final say, but oftentimes I can carry a very influential point, and I want to make certain that I’ve thought through that well before we decide where we’re going to push,” he said.
Haslam often takes so much time to decide issues that the controversy has died down and a different issue is front and center, said Ben Cunningham, a spokesman for Tennessee Tax Revolt and an activist with the Nashville Tea Party. While members of his faction are happy with the governor cutting taxes like those on groceries, inheritances and investments, Cunningham said he would like to see the governor be more decisive on issues like opposing Medicaid expansion.
“It’s pretty difficult to really tie him down, because he doesn’t anchor himself down,” Cunningham said. “He does not really inspire great feelings one way or the other, because he doesn’t express great feelings one way or the other.”
…”I would caution anybody who tries to mix issues of the allegations against Pilot right now and the governor. That is a colossal stretch for anyone to try,” said Tom Ingram, a private political consultant for the governor, and also for Jimmy Haslam as he navigates the company through the FBI investigation.
“It energizes people who are looking for something to talk about,” he said. “I think the relevant point a challenger should look at is the governor’s popularity, is the governor’s record, and this governor’s ability, and issues as they specifically relate to this governor. That’s a pretty formidable set of assets going into a campaign.”
…While the question of whether there is more than a tangential tie between the governor and the alleged wrongdoing at Pilot is still unanswered, the investigation is restarting debate about the governor’s refusal to reveal details about how much he has invested in his family’s company.
“I don’t think that Gov. Haslam has anything to do with, personally, the Pilot Oil problems,” said Wamp, who said he has no plans to run for the governor’s office again. “But at the same time, I think people want to know what their executive leaders are involved in financially.”
Haslam’s decision to withhold his income tax returns during his campaign, despite fervent calls from his opponents to show exactly how much he earns from Pilot, didn’t hurt his ability to take the governor’s seat. But Wamp said transparency is still an issue the public needs to think about. The Democratic Party is also beginning to call for the governor to reveal his Pilot-related income.
“In politics, you can overcome a lot of liabilities if you do a good job and if you’re straight with the people,” said Wamp. “I think we’d all like to see more transparency, but I think Gov. Haslam is a very honorable man who is serving our state well.”
Tom Ingram and two of his associates lobbied state lawmakers this year to eliminate Tennessee’s privilege tax on professional athletes, according to The Tennessean, but you wouldn’t know it from what they disclosed about their efforts publicly. The lobbyist registration forms that Tom Ingram and his colleagues at The Ingram Group filed with the state only mentioned another lobbying firm, giving the public no indication of the special interests they were really representing in an unsuccessful bid to kill the so-called “jock tax.”
The Ingram Group’s Marcille Durham and Sam Reed registered as lobbyists for McGuiness Group, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying shop, on Feb. 25, with Tom Ingram joining them on April 17, state records show. McGuiness Group’s website says its clients include the players associations for the National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association.
Dick Williams, chairman of good-government group Common Cause Tennessee and a lobbyist himself, said Ingram, Durham and Reed appear to have complied with the law. But the law, which requires only that lobbyists list their employers and that employers say who’s lobbying for them, leaves something to be desired.
“Ideally, it would be nice to have a little more clarity for the public,” Williams said. “It does leave a little vagueness.”
…Durham said the Ingram Group lobbyists’ listing of McGuiness Group as their employer was not only legal but accurate. She said McGuiness Group, run by former U.S. Senate aide Kevin McGuiness, is the “professional manager” for the pro sports players associations.
“I wouldn’t call McGuiness just a lobbyist,” Durham said Friday. “McGuiness Group was our client. Our direction didn’t come from the players associations. It came from McGuiness Group.”
Durham said she, Reed and Ingram have updated their registrations to indicate that they’re about to start lobbying directly for the hockey and basketball players associations.
,,,The privilege tax, a common practice in states with professional sports franchises, applies to pro hockey and basketball players who play in the state of Tennessee as members of the Nashville Predators, Memphis Grizzlies or visiting NHL and NBA teams. The tax does not apply to the Tennessee Titans or their opponents.
Athletes are taxed $2,500 per game for up to three games per year. A recent article in the Marquette Sports Law Review, which argues that Tennessee’s tax is unconstitutional under the Commerce Clause, says some athletes wind up paying to play here when the privilege tax and other taxes exceed their per-game wages.
Frank Cagle devotes his weekly column to Tom Ingram, depicted as “the Ghostbuster for millionaire Republicans.” He is being paid by Bill Haslam as a consultant. He is being paid by Pilot Flying J as a consultant. Should Alexander have a tough primary race, Ingram will no doubt be called on again. Last year he was a highly-paid campaign consultant for Corker, who had no credible opposition.
But this time the “fixer” has some liabilities of his own. He has been discovered to be lobbying for a coal company to get access to the state-owned Catoosa Wildlife Management Area while being a consultant to the governor. And he was not registered as a lobbyist with the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance. (Hat tip to the News Sentinel and WTVF-TV Nashville.)
Ingram’s overlapping roles over the years as the go-to campaign consultant, Senate staffer, lobbying and public relations group owner, and personal adviser to the Haslams are a tangled web and no one but Ingram knows where all the strands intersect.
To get his clients out of the current mess, Ingram will have to earn his money.
ngram’s relationship with the governor and his seeming indifference to the rules requiring him to report his lobbying activity has a whiff of arrogance his clients don’t need at the present time.
The Tennessee Ethics Commission voted Monday to hold a hearing on whether veteran political operative Tom Ingram violated state lobbying laws along with one of his associates at The Ingram Group and one of their clients.
Ingram, political consultant to Gov. Bill Haslam as well as U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, and Marcille Durham, president of The Ingram Group, have acknowledged they failed to register as lobbyists for Hillsborough Resources Ltd., which wants to mine coal on Catoosa Wildlife Management Area near Crossville.
The Commission discussed Monday what action to take after receiving two letters and a check for $600 to cover two years of lobbyist registration fees for Ingram and Durham. The two also met with members of the agency staff last week.
“I think we – and the state of Tennessee – are due an explanation of what happened here,” said James S. Stranch III, chairman of the commission.
The commission voted 4-0 to hold a “show cause hearing,” which basically gives those suspected of violating the law an opportunity to explain why they should not be subject to a civil penalty. One member, John Gregory Hardeman, recused himself from the vote, saying he knew both Ingram and Durham.
Tom Ingram, veteran consultant to both Gov. Bill Haslam and Pilot Flying J, faces a potential civil penalty for failing for three years to register as required by law as a lobbyist for a company that wants to mine coal on state-owned land near Crossville.
Ingram said Wednesday the failure to register was “inadvertent on Marcelle’s part,” a reference to Marcelle Durham, president of The Ingram Group, the public relations and lobbying firm that Ingram founded and operates.
Durham has written a letter to the state Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance acknowleding the “inadvertent oversight” and declaring she will submit belated lobbyist registrations for three years of lobbying for Hillsborough Resources Inc., which is negotiating with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to mine for coal on Catoosa Wildlife Management Area. (For copy of the letter, click on this link: Durham_Letter.pdf
In an interview, Ingram said is is careful to balance his lobbying work with his role as a consultant to Gov. Bill Haslam and to Pilot Flying J and does not see any conflicts of interest. (Note: WTVF story on Ingram lobbying HERE.)
His latest role, as Ingram described it, is “managing communications on the investigation” by the FBI into allegations that Pilot Flying J cheated some trucking companies in billings for diesel fuel. Ingram said he is actually retained in that role by Neal and Harwell, the law firm hired by Pilot Flying J.
The Tennessean continues its reporting on the troubled Department of Labor and Workforce Development with a trio of Sunday stories, led by Chas Sisk’s review of the recruiting of now-departed commissioner Karla Davis and questions about her credentials. How Davis, a little-known nonprofit administrator, could be named to lead a major state agency says much about how Gov. Bill Haslam has structured his administration. His twin emphases — bringing in fresh blood and building a diverse cabinet — have helped him shake up state government.
But in a couple of cases, the governor has put people in charge who critics say lacked the experience or skills to run state departments. Davis, who resigned in March, citing family reasons, left shortly before the release of a scathing audit of her department. In addition, the department is facing at least three wrongful-termination lawsuits, including two that allege racial discrimination.
Race and gender appear to have been factors in Davis’ hiring. But she also convinced the governor himself that she was the right person for the job, shining in interviews and enduring a lengthy vetting process.
“Karla was bright,” Haslam said, “and she had been working with enough folks in situations like the people our Labor and Workforce Development Department serves that I thought she could add some value.”
…Tom Ingram, the head of Haslam’s transition team, said the governor was looking to assemble a diverse group for his administration but added Davis had to clear several rounds of interviews, including one with Haslam directly.
“She was highly recommended or she wouldn’t have been in it,” Ingram said. “Did she meet our diversity criteria? Absolutely. Was that the reason that she was appointed? Not unless we thought she was qualified.”
…While not disputing the criticisms of Davis and O’Day, Haslam defended how he had assembled his cabinet.
“We have 23 commissioners, and of those, 18 or 19 are from outside state government,” he said. “We’ve had some commissioners that were incredibly successful.”
But the governor added that the task of naming senior leaders was harder than many might think. He said there is little time for an incoming governor to find the right people for every position, contrasting it to the deliberate way in which people are chosen by private businesses.
“You basically have 30 really critical positions to fill and you have a very tight window to do that,” he said. “If I’m hiring somebody for a business, I know what that existing department that I’m hiring them to run is like. … You don’t have that advantage when you’re coming into state government.”
One sidebar focuses on lawsuits claiming race discrimination during Davis’ tenure: Filed by two former employees, one suit in local court and another in federal court allege that leaders in the Department of Labor and Workforce Development forced out employees based on race — that white staffers were replaced by blacks.
The complaints, which cite the labor department and former Commissioner Karla Davis, stem from the two years Davis ran the agency. Davis, along with Deputy Commissioner Alisa Malone and former Assistant Administrator Turner Nashe, resigned in March, days before a stinging audit exposed the department’s mismanagement of millions of dollars.
The other sidebar begins: If you’re unemployed in Tennessee, you are less likely than most jobless in other states to get a benefit check. And if you do get one, it will be for less money, according to federal data.
In the past year, Tennessee’s average weekly unemployment check paid $235 — sixth-lowest in the nation — and just 17 percent of the state’s unemployed actually got benefits, ranking fourth.
Politico discovered Bill Haslam last week, declaring in a flattering profile piece that he is “the most important Republican governor you’ve never heard of,” a prospective candidate for national office and “at the very least a model for national Republicans groping around for ideas that appeal to the middle class.”
At the same time, the national online political magazine was also running an article about the great divide among Republican governors over Medicaid expansion. The “ideological purists are big-name Southern governors who have all said ‘hell no’ to major pieces of the law, even turning down free federal cash to expand Medicaid in their states,” the article says. Haslam, not being a big-name governor and only recently discovered by Politico, is not mentioned.
He’s also not mentioned among the “more pragmatic governors” who have said yes to Medicaid expansion, risking the wrath of their party’s right wing for doing something that can be construed as embracing the despised Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as “Obamacare.”
But it’s a pretty safe bet that he will be joining the more pragmatic governors after going through a few more motions to soften the ensuring confrontation with the Legislature’s ideological purists as much as possible.
The Tennessee Valley Authority boosted compensation for its top officers in fiscal 2012 to a record high despite a federal pay freeze, reports the Chattanooga TFP. Tom Kilgore, TVA’s chief executive who is retiring at the end of the year, was paid more than $4 million in total compensation in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. Kilgore has headed the nation’s biggest government utility for the past six years and is one of the highest paid federal workers in America.
Kilgore’s total pay for salary, benefits and pension was more than 10 times the $400,000 salary paid to President Barack Obama. But a study by pay consultants Towers Perrin found that Kilgore is paid the least among CEOs at 14 comparable investor-owned electric utilities and Kilgore’s compensation ranked ninth among the heads of 11 comparably sized, nonenergy companies in Tennessee.
Kilgore’s salary was down slightly from the previous year. But his performance bonuses and deferred retirement benefits boosted his overall compensation in 2012 by nearly 2 percent above the year-ago total.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Valley Authority’s board has chosen a former energy chief from North Carolina, who was ousted from his previous company earlier this year, to succeed retiring Tom Kilgore as the chief executive of the nation’s largest public utility.
Bill Johnson was CEO of Progress Energy and had been slated to lead Duke Energy when the two companies combined to form the nation’s largest investor-owned utility in July. But within hours of the merger Johnson was out, replaced by Jim Rogers, who had been Duke’s CEO but was slated to become executive chairman.
The surprise ouster has prompted North Carolina’s utility regulator to investigate whether the state and public were misled during the merger approval process.
At a news conference in Knoxville on Monday, TVA Board Chairman Bill Sansom expressed total confidence in the board’s choice of leadership. He said the board was unanimous in its support for Johnson.
Sen. Lamar Alexander’s contention that rising Medicaid costs drain money away from public colleges and universities drew a challenge Thursday from Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin.
Further from The Tennessean: The issue arose at a hearing of the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee on the affordability of higher education.
Alexander, a Republican on the committee, repeated his argument that spending on Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for the poor, deprives states of funds they could use to support their higher education systems and reduce costs for students and their families.
Over the last 30 years, Alexander said, the share of state budgets devoted to Medicaid has increased from 8 percent to 25 percent.
“That’s true everywhere in the country. This is not President (Barack) Obama. This has been going on for 30 years,” the second-term senator said.
Alexander said states should propose a swap where the federal government would take over all Medicaid costs and the states would handle all education costs. It would leaves states better off, he said, by $92 billion a year.
Afterward, the Tennessee senator said he is drafting legislation to be introduced next year that would offer several options for helping to reduce state Medicaid costs, including his swap idea.
But with Alexander gone from the hearing, Harkin, a Democrat and the committee chairman, took issue with blaming higher education’s financial problems on Medicaid. Many factors have caused Medicaid costs to soar, Harkin said, including the fact that poverty has been increasing.
“We have a growing number of poor people,” he said. “Just look at the data.”
And, Harkin said, there is a moral responsibility involved.
“They (the poor) still have to be taken care of,” he said. “I hope we are not trying to pit poor kids against college kids.”
States have also hurt themselves, the Iowa senator said, by repeatedly cutting taxes in good times, putting a greater squeeze on their budgets during bad times.