Politics » Politics Feature

Eastern Visitor

Knoxville mayor Bill Haslam takes his gubernatorial campaign to Shelby County.


Bill Haslam meets and greets. - JACKSON BAKER

If district attorney Bill Gibbons, Memphis' favorite son in the Republican field for governor, has a rear-view mirror in good repair, it's probably showing him, more often than he'd like, the figure of Knoxville mayor Bill Haslam, a frequent interloper on Gibbons' electoral home turf.

Haslam, who has made repeated visits to Memphis in his own quest for traction in next year's gubernatorial race, was here again last week, going door-to-door in a Bartlett neighborhood. "Obviously you can't visit every household in the state, but we're doing this three times a week, alternating west and middle and east. Then we start the cycle all over again," Halsam said.

The Knoxville mayor made the rounds in Memphis, meeting with key supporters, addressing the East Memphis Rotary Club, and stopping by the Church Health Center, among other stops. That he still has some miles to go in his quest to get recognition was indicated when he knocked on one door in Bartlett and was greeted by a woman who said, "Who are you? A state senator?" (Her question may have been prompted by the fact that her neighbor across the street is Jim Coley, a GOP state House member.

Haslam, whose family owns the Pilot Oil empire and who is the fund-raising leader among all candidates (with some $3.5 million in receipts thus far), dismissed a recent straw poll among Republicans in Wilson County that showed Chattanooga congressman Zach Wamp well ahead and Haslam a weak third.

"If you look at straw polls historically," Haslam said, "they haven't been of much significance in determining elections." He noted that eventual U.S. Senate winner Bob Corker did dismally in the same poll before the 2006 election, "finishing behind somebody who wasn't even in the race." The bottom line: "We're personally not worrying about straw polls now."

(Of straw votes in general, Democrat Jim Kyle, the Shelby County Democrats' favorite son among gubernatorial candidates, chose to put it this way while appearing at a picnic in Memphis last weekend: "The Wilson County poll was won by Democrats. Only 141 people voted. The week before, in a comparably sized county, Rutherford County, 320 people voted in the Democratic straw poll." )

On the issue of gun legislation, Haslam, a professed "strong" supporter of the Second Amendment, defended his support of a recent local-option proposal in Knoxville assessing a modest fine on violators of injunctions which the city council has continued against carrying guns in restaurants and on parkgrounds.

• On the third ballot Monday, former assistant city treasurer and longtime Democratic activist Regina Morrison-Newman was elected by the County Commission as interim Shelby County trustee to succeed the late Paul Mattila.

Morrison-Newman, who also served as assistant commissioner of revenue for former governor Ned McWherter, won out over two rivals, fellow Democrat Robert Grandberry and longtime deputy trustee Debra Gates, who had Republican support.

Given the Democrats' current 8-5 majority on the commission, it was a reasonable certainty that one of the two leading Democrats would win, and when Mike Ritz, one of the most dyed-in-the-wool Republicans on the commission, cast his vote for Morrison-Newman on the first ballot, it was a fairly good indicator that Monday was her day.

"The Democrats were going to name the winner anyhow," said Ritz the realist. "So I figured I might as well help pick the one that I thought would do the best job."

Gates was eliminated on the second ballot, as Morrison-Newman continued to gain, and she finished the third and final ballot with a convincing 10-3 margin over Grandberry.

Morrison-Newman owed her victory not only to a convincing personal resume but to a long history of involvement in others' political campaigns. She put herself on the line in 2006 for a General Sessions courtship and narrowly missed election.

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