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Haslam Reflects On Eight Years In Office And What He Hopes Bill Lee Will Learn


Gov. Bill Haslam wraps up eight years in office at the end of this week. His tenure has been marked by some nationally recognized successes — like boosting college enrollment — and one big defeat: the failure of his Medicaid expansion plan, Insure Tennessee.

But in his final days, Haslam told WPLN senior editor Chas Sisk he wants Tennesseans to remember him for one main idea: his pragmatism.

The following are excerpts from that interview:

What's the one thing you're most proud of, being governor? What's the biggest disappointment?

I think the thing we'll probably be known for when we leave is the whole Tennessee Promise-Tennessee Reconnect idea. But I personally hope [what] we're known for [is] we really did work hard to get to the right decisions, and we weren't just looking at it from a partisan point of view. We weren't just looking at it from a, 'Well, here's our idea, so we're going to try to push that across.' But we worked hard to find the right idea, to involve as many people as possible and to do the right thing.

And biggest disappointment?

I know people probably think it's, 'Well, you lost Insure Tennessee.' But it's actually not. I mean, I wish we'd done it, but it's not a regret. I don't wish we hadn't brought it up. I still think it the right thing to do.

Disappointment is, once you start to get near the end — even though I firmly believe in term limits; it's time for me to move on and a new governor to come — your disappointment is more the things [where] you see, 'Durn, I wish I could have taken that next step. I wish I could've gotten that done.' Because you realize there are things you can do as a governor that you can't do at any other point.

What are some of those things that you haven't gotten to that you would like to have addressed?

I think some of those are things that are kind of left unfinished. Obviously, we had a lot of controversy and questions around the TN Ready assessement that you're familiar with. I'd love to have a little more time to make certain we got that on better footing, because I think it is critical that we have an assessment that really works. ...

We started some stuff on higher ed. But really think we're sort of on the ... tip of the opportunity.

What's your impression of [Bill Lee's] approach to governing?

I judge people by, are they in it for the right reasons? Are they smart enough to do the job? Are they willing to put in the time and effort ... and do they hire great people? And I give Bill really high marks on that.

What's one thing that you shared with him that you learned when you came into office that surprised you?

In businesss, when the CEO says yes, then it's a yes. Because typically you have a board of directors, but they're all agreed, 'Here's what we're working on.' ...

Government's not that way, and there are what I like to call 'a thousand points of no.' And so, the governor might decide it, but you still have a legislature. And you still have constitutional officers. And you still have agencies out across the state that need to implement it. There are just a lot of places that something can not happen, even if the governor wants it to happen. ...

What's something on which your views have really changed, in your eight years in office?

I think maybe my views maybe have changed in the understanding of the process that's involved in a lot of things. And by that, I mean this: If you're coming out of business, it's always about the result. It's how many of this did you make? ... What was your margin? What was your expenses? It's about the result.

In government, the process matters because it's not yours. I'm the governor but this isn't 'my' state. You have a legislature that's made of up 132 people, all of them elected for their own reasons. Some of them ... the reason they ran, the reason they're elected, I can't identify with at all. But they were and that's how democracy works.

And, so, you have to have an appreciation for the process that's not a natural thing for people that have never been in government.