Friday, January 31, 2014

Why Didn't Gov. Bill Haslam Stick Around to See the President?

Posted By on Fri, Jan 31, 2014 at 4:00 PM

As you know, President Barack Obama was in town yesterday for a visit to McGavock High School.

Lots of people were there. But Gov. Bill Haslam wasn't, and nearly 24 hours later, we still can't figure out why.

Oh yes, we know the official reason: he was attending economic development meetings in another state, according to a spokesman. He had planned to meet Obama at the airport, but the president was running late and so the governor had to jet without greeting him on the tarmac.

How do we put this mildly ... uh, Pants on Fire.

The governor's office won't tell reporters where Haslam goes and who he sees at these sorts of meetings. That's annoying, but separate from our point here.

Something tells us that if you're the governor, and the president is coming to your state, the corporate bigwigs (or whoever it is Haslam was meeting with) will understand your request for a rain check. Hell, Obama was on the ground for 2 hours — this economic development meeting couldn't wait that long? It was just "in another state" right, not in Hong Kong?

Of course we can come up with a few political reasons a Republican governor might avoid a chance to be photographed in the same room as this Democratic president. We can come up with them, but they're still weak. Let's try a few out:

President Obama is a political toxin in Tennessee and appearing with him at an event could taint the governor's conservative credentials. The legislature is in session and Haslam doesn't want a Ron Ramsey-led revolt on his hands.

This is why regular people — that is people who don't live in the political bubble populated by politicians and even people like us — hate politics. Seriously. Go tell a normal person that the billionaire governor kept plans out of the state and avoided spending a couple of hours with the president because some other people strongly dislike the president. They'll laugh at you.

But beyond that, why should the governor allow himself to be held hostage like this? What, is someone going to primary him? The man has more than $4.5 million in campaign cash on hand. He could spell out "Yes We Can" with $100 dollar bills just to taunt the Tea Party and still win re-election. So what if Republicans in the legislature don't like seeing him rub shoulders with the president? What are they going to do, start proposing extreme pieces of legislation that brings embarrassing national attention to the state and put the governor in a tough spot? Well my heavens, how evah would we survive that?

Maybe it's not political pressure. Maybe the governor himself doesn't want to be seen with the president because he strongly disagrees with his policies and the direction in which he's leading the blah blah blah.

We don't think this is the reason because 1) it doesn't seem like Haslam "feels strongly" about all that much and 2) he's never struck us as someone with the real deep-seated animosity toward the president that grips some other members of his party. But let's say it was the reason, he should have the guts to say so.

But putting aside all of that, we heard the president's speech yesterday and we truly can't figure out why the governor wouldn't want to be there when a sitting president flies into the state to lavish praise on its education. Sure, much of Obama's praise was directed toward Metro Schools initiatives, and he and the governor might disagree on some policies like pre-K. But Nashville is still in, you know, Tennessee. The state where Gov. Bill Haslam is the governor.

This wasn't an overly partisan or political speech. It was a speech heaping praise on a city, and at times the state as a whole, for the way it is approaching one of the most important things it does: education.

The statement that could've come from the governor's office after he attended the speech practically writes itself:

"It's always an honor to have a sitting president visit our state, particularly when he's here to recognize success. The President and I don't agree on much, but I'm proud that he's noticed the strides we're making in education, in Nashville and across the state. If President Obama is serious when he says he wants to learn from what works, he should stick around a while. There's plenty more that works in Tennessee and we'd love to tell him all about it."

Voila! The governor could have attended the president's speech, counted Obama's praise as a victory, made it clear that he has his differences with the guy, and then jetted off to whatever boardroom he was supposed to be in.

Most of all, though, why wasn't the governor — and our senators, and our congressional delegation and the rest of the state's Republican leaders — at McGavock High School yesterday to see the President of the United States tell a bunch of students and teachers that they're doing great work? Why didn't they show up to see the hard work and commitment of a diverse group of students and lot of underpaid teachers honored by the most powerful man in the world?

Scheduling? Come on.

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