After his tour of the Criminal Justice Center4 at 201 Poplar with Gibbons, Knoxville mayor Haslam made a joke based on a reference in last week’s Tennessee Journal to the ritual that the Gibbons drop-in has become for gubernatorial candidates in Memphis. (Republicans Zach Wamp and Ron Ramsey had made the pilgrimage previously.)
“I think the Rendezvous’s getting jealous. He’s the new Memphis landmark,” said Haslam.
As for why he and the others were touching this base: “Seriously, we ought to. Bill, while he was campaigning, and even before that, was addressing one of the most serious issues in Tennessee [crime control]….He’s working on some creative solutions to the issue, and there’s nothing like coming to see it first-hand.”
Among the actrivities Haslam observed at the CJC were a domestic violence court and a drug court, both of which, he said, had contributed to the 16 percent reduction in crime in Memphis over the last two years.
Gibbons opined, “Maybe the fact that I talked about crime in the governor’s race made the other candidates understand that it is a problem that needs to be addressed.”
It has been no secret, of course, that each of Gibbons’ Republican visitors would like an endorsement — if not from Gibbons himself, then perhaps from members of the former candidate’s entourage.
Gibbons was asked: Would he consider making an endorsement of one of his former rivals?
“It’is not my intention,” he said. “You never say no, an absolute no, but it is not my intention to endorse anyone in the primary.”
During his availability with Gibbons, Haslam was asked about persistent demands from critics (including, ironically, Gibbons during the period of his active candidacy) that he release his income tax returns.
“Everything I own has been revealed publicly,” Pilot Oil scion Haslam said, contending that Tennesseans he talked to told him they understood where his money comes from. "I've laid out everything [I] own, and from Tennesseans, frankly, I have not heard that”—the “that” being demands for releaing the returns.
Haslam was also asked his attitude toward the currently controversial budget cuts passed by state Senate Repubicans and under consideration by the House. He answered warily. “I’m not for increasing taxes. And not for keeping on raiding the rainy day fund. “ He declined to specify his own budgetary remedies. “It’s too easy to sit on the sidelines and not say what you do like. I’ll let them determine specific cuts.”
Chattanooga congressman Wamp had been in town for two days earlier in the week, and at one point, after addressing a group of Young Republicans at Spindini’s Restaurant downtown, met briefly with reporters and renewed a suggestion that the gubernatorial race could winnow down from four (himself, Haslam, Ramsey, and McWherter) to three.
Who might the dropout be?, he was asked. “Well, it won’t be me. I’m not the one who’s missed most of the meetings this past week.” That was an apparent reference to Ramsey, who had missed at least one gubernatorial forum and perhaps other cattle calls due to his involvement in legislative activity.
Wamp was asked about the now famous Shelby County Commission letter requesting gubernatorial candidates to pledge that all federal funds generated by indigent care at the Med be returned 100 percent to the Med. “I intend to sign it,” he said, “but I haven’t seen it.”
During a visit to Memphis last week, Haslam was asked point-blank if he was inclined not to sign such a pledge: “Yeah, we’ve looked at that, and I don’t know that really signing that petition is what’s going to change things.” The reason? “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 had also said, “Everybody thinks everybody else is getting a better deal.” But he acknowledged, “Memphis probably feels that stronger than most regions.”