Republican nominee for governor Bill Haslam is in Memphis for the day meeting with local mayors. He had a 45 minutes session Thursday morning with Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. and Shelby County Mayor elect Mark Luttrell. There is also a separate session with the six suburban mayors in Bartlett. Haslam is the mayor of Knoxville.
Maybe it’s a sign of too much time following politicians around, but it was kind of fun to begin a question with “Mayor …” and watch Haslam and Wharton momentarily try to figure out which one was getting the question and Luttrell’s delay of a few seconds as he gets used to the title.
The Wharton and Luttrell session at City Hall covered a lot of ground according to the trio, who talked with reporters after the meeting.
At the top of the list for Wharton and Luttrell was jobs, specifically a governor who will help the mayors compete with towns and cities in North Mississippi who have been helped greatly in recent years by Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour.
“The leader being personally engaged makes a difference,” Haslam said when asked about Barbour’s technique. “I’ve talked to a lot of companies here that have said, ‘Haley Barbour himself called me on the phone.’ And it got their attention. And they weren’t really big companies.”
But Haslam was careful not to criticize outgoing Tn. Gov. Phil Bredesen, saying the state of Tennessee is doing a good job now.
“If that means spending a lot of time on the phone or visiting people, you bet I will.”
Although Bredesen has endorsed Democratic nominee Mike McWherter, Haslam and even his rivals in the Republican primary, have been hesitant to criticize his fiscally conservative leadership of the state for the last eight years.
Haslam didn’t get nor did he seek any endorsements during the City Hall session. Wharton, a Democrat, has already endorsed McWherter.
McWherter, as we reported last week, has told local business leaders he is ready to do what Barbour has done on the other side of the state line – get personally involved in the competition for jobs.
McWherter also criticized Haslam for refusing to commit to an expansion of pre-kindergarten programs across the state. McWherter said the expansion of pre-k availability is central to improving education across the state with early intervention that is less costly than trying to make up ground later in a student’s path through school.
Haslam says it a legitimate difference between the two contenders. He does not believe pre-k programs should be expanded and should remain at the level they are now.
“I don’t think we have the money right to expand pre k. We’re a billion plus (dollars) in the hole,” he said. “So we use this period of time to evaluate. See how we’re doing. When revenue comes back, we have a list of things that are worthy of being discussed and pursued.”