Though Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Haslam made perhaps his most pronounced pitch ever for Memphis support in a two-day visit concluding Thursday, he stopped well short of gratifying local wishes on one key score — that of funding for the Med.
Speaking to reporters after appearing before a sizeable crowd at his Eastgate headquarters in tandem with honorary campaign chair Howard Baker, Knoxville mayor Haslam expressed his commitment to the Med in general terms: “I think that what should happen is that we need to make certain the Med is adequately funded, because it’s so critical that you go there. We’re talking about the trauma unit, the burn unit, low-income care. You know, we all need the Med to work.”
But on the specific issue of a Shelby County Commission letter asking all gubernatorial candidates to sign a pledge to return all federal dollars generated by indigent care at the Med back to the Med, Haslam followed the lead of his rivals in waffling. Only his waffle was more explicit:
“It’s really not that simple that you can say ‘all the dollars that come out of here go back that way.’ You have to look…I don’t think anybody can give you an exact formula and say, ‘The Med produces this much and should get that much back.’
Haslam was asked point-blank: Did that mean he would decline to sign the pledge? “Yeah, we’ve looked at that, and I don’t know that really signing that petition is what’s going to change things.”
That seemed to settle that. No signing on to the commission’s pledge.
Haslam did express approval of hospital bed-tax legislation now making its way through the legislature as a means of helping the Med break even.
Asked about a widespread feeling among Memphians that the city isn’t getting its share of attention from state government in general, Haslam said such a feeling was general in all sections of Tennessee. “Everybody thinks everybody else is getting a better deal.” But he acknowledged, “Memphis probably feels that stronger than most regions.”
During his two-day visit Haslam had met with Med officials and with representatives of the Memphis’ Bioworks Foundation, among others. His time here coincided with showing of a TV ad aimed specifically at Memphis and Shelby County.
The ad features several Memphis landmarks and focuses on the fact that Crissyh Garrett Haslam, Haslam’s wife, is a Memphis native.
In addition to former Senator Baker, a resident of Huntsville, a town just north of Haslam’s own Knoxville, the speakers at the headquarters rally included former U.S. Attorney David Kustoff, a former co-chairman of the gubernatorial campaign of local District Attorney Bill Gibbons who now occupies a similar role with the Haslam campaign.
Haslam's two GOP rivals, Chattanooga congressman Zach Wamp and Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey of Blountville, in previous visits to Memphis had held public pres availabilities with Gibbons. As of his Memphis visit this week, Haslam had not held a similar public media session in the company of Gibbons, nor did Gibbons attend the headquarters rally Thursday.
But the Haslam campaign contacted the Flyer after the first appearance of this article online to announce that the Knoxville mayor would participate in such a joint event with Gibbons next Thursday.
Haslam spent much of Thursday afternoon touring flood-damaged neighborhoods in Millington. He canceled a previously scheduled an East Memphis door-to-door session to do so.