Democrat Mike McWherter eagerly entered the debate Wednesday over whether Republican Bill Haslam should disclose all his income and place his holdings in his family’s Pilot Corp. into a blind trust if he’s elected governor.
McWherter opened a Tennessee Chamber of Commerce candidate forum by swiping at Haslam for refusing to do either, suggesting he’s breaking trust with Tennessee voters. Clearly hoping to make headlines with his announcement, McWherter’s campaign issued a press release beforehand to alert reporters.
But only minutes before his appearance, Gov. Phil Bredesen undercut the front-runner for his party’s gubernatorial nomination. Bredesen spoke at the same event, and afterward, he dismissed the issue as phony when reporters asked about it.
“I actually think he’s on pretty sound ground there, because you could put Pilot in all the blind trusts you want, but it’s not going to be blind,” the governor said of Haslam. “It’s owned by his family. He probably has to sign documents from time to time related to it. In a way, the issue of blind trust and Pilot is kind of a fake issue. I don’t know how you could put it in a blind trust is the reality.”
As for disclosing his Pilot income, which Haslam also has declined to do, the governor also was dismissive. “I think everybody gets to make their own decision about that,” he said.
McWherter, a Jackson businessman, appeared with former House majority leader Kim McMillan at the forum. It was their first since, with the departure of state Sen. Jim Kyle from the contest last week, they became the only two Democrats running for governor.
“Before I start, I want to get something off my chest,” McWherter told the Chamber of Commerce audience. “There’s been some issues about candidate disclosure. I have fully disclosed my income taxes for the last three years and, ladies and gentlemen, when I get a chance to go home and figure out last year’s, I’ll be disclosing last year’s as well. I fully intend to put all of my assets into a blind trust once I’m elected. I believe being open and transparent with the voters of Tennessee is a pact you make when you ask for their trust.”
In his campaign’s news release, McWherter also stated: “The voters are fed up with politicians who would try to use public office for personal gain. If elected governor, I intend to go the extra mile to ensure that the public’s trust is not violated under my administration.”