Joe Birch's candidate profile: Bill Haslam - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Joe Birch's candidate profile: Bill Haslam

Bill Haslam Bill Haslam

By Joe Birch - bio | email

MUNFORD, TN (WMC-TV) - The Mayor of Knoxville wants a promotion to be Tennessee's next Governor.

Recently, Action News 5 raced though a Munford neighborhood with Bill Haslam, a republican who says his seven years as mayor and work as a top corporate executive make him ready to serve in the state's top office.

"Having been a mayor is great experience," he said. "If you think about it, it's really the same thing as being Governor. It's a bigger job, the budget's bigger, with more employees, but it's the same job. It's an executive job."

As Knoxville's Mayor for the last seven years, Haslam says he worked to create safer neighborhoods, improve city services, make downtown Knoxville more welcoming, and attract more jobs.

"Unemployment is at 10 percent," he said. "We need a Governor who knows how to bring jobs to Tennessee, who's actually done that - doesn't just talk about it, but done that. I've done that in private business; I've done that as Mayor."

Haslam repaired Knoxville's twisted city finances, reducing debt and property taxes while improving the credit rating of Tennessee's third largest city.

"We also need a Governor who's ready to handle the tough budget issues without raising taxes. That's not the answer," he said. "We're going to have a smaller state budget to work with next year. We need a Governor who knows how to do that."

Haslam amassed a fortune as a top exec at his family-owned Pilot Travel Centers, a company his father started. The 47-year-old has kept details of his personal financial picture private, while opponents demand to see if his investments might contain a conflict of interest:  

"I have other family members who'd be involved in this as well, who are not running for office," he said.

Haslam's chief rival, Democrat Mike McWherter, has revealed his recent income tax filings and has demanded Haslam do the same:

"I been Mayor of Knoxville for seven years," Haslam said during a recent debate. "I've executed that jobs with the highest ethical standards. The people of Knoxville felt very comfortable with that. They re-elected me with 87 percent of the vote."

Haslam has used his financial advantages to run a constant barrage of carefully produced campaign commercials, touting his experience in big jobs.

He also has a gift for retail politics, and is a quick study of challenges facing ordinary people. On a door knocking campaign swing through a Munford neighborhood, he ran into Jim Brickley, a man who gives employment workshops for National Guardsmen returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

"So now I'm helping them do resumes - teaching them to write resumes," Brickley said. "One individual says, 'I really don't know what I want to do.' I said, 'What can you do?' 'The only thing I know to do is go to war because there are no jobs here.'"

"The economy is tougher now," Haslam replied. "It just is. We have to do a better job of creating that real workforce training and development, whether they're military or not."

At the Old Timer's Restaurant in Millington three weeks ago, Haslam promised to remember Memphis and this part of the state.

"There's always a sense, 'This guy's from East Tennessee, is he going to care about West Tennessee?'" he said.

Haslam estimates he's spent 70 days visiting Shelby, Fayette and Tipton Counties in his 20 month long campaign, and he has a Memphis connection in his wife, Crissy, who won't let him forget her hometown:

"I like it when he says if Tennessee is your business, Memphis is your biggest branch," she said.

In addition to Haslam and Democrat Mike McWherter, 14 independent candidates are running for Tennessee Governor.  Thursday, ActioN News 5 will focus on two-term incumbent U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln, and her uphill fight for re-election in Arkansas.

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