Bill Haslam accused his rivals of playing political games in the governor’s campaign Tuesday in response to new calls that he make a complete accounting of his income from Pilot Corp.
The Knoxville mayor said that not only would he decline to disclose his Pilot income, he also wouldn’t place those holdings in a blind trust he would set up for his other investments.
“Almost all the people bringing this up are the people who are running against me,” Haslam said after speaking in Nashville to the Republicans’ First Tuesday club. “In the end, I think people right now understand that these are serious times facing us in this state, and most people quite frankly see this as the politics that it is.”
Earlier at a gubernatorial forum, Shelby County district attorney Bill Gibbons likened Haslam's refusal to disclose his Pilot earnings to "an Olympic athlete declining to take a drug test.”
Haslam told the Associated Press he plans to keep his Pilot holdings outside his blind trust because his stake in the family-owned truck-stop company is well known. “What’s the use of putting it in a blind trust?” he asked.
At the First Tuesday club, he said: “Quite frankly, I think people in Tennessee are satisfied with what I’ve disclosed and understand where my money comes from. I don’t think there’s a whole lot of doubt. People understand the connection with Pilot. … It’s a very above-board identification.”
Haslam also dismissed criticism that, as governor, he would face too many conflicts of interest because of his Pilot ownership.
“Almost any business you’re in, it’s regulated by the state. … If you’re saying that’s a conflict for anybody, then really what you’re saying is that really, unless you’ve spent your whole life in government service, we want you to be on the sideline. I don’t think that’s what Republicans believe.”
He said he believes the Republican gubernatorial nominee will win November’s general election, but cautioned his opponents against mudslinging and promised that his campaign will take the high road.
“The key here is to have a primary that’s talking about issues that people care about. When people say things about you and you’re throwing stuff back at them, there’s a real reason. I honestly think people want to talk about what matters right now. And I think the more we can do that, it will guarantee that a Republican will be our next governor.
“This is going to sound corny to a lot of people, but here’s what I’m committed to doing in this primary," he continued. "The day after the primary, I’m convinced that we’ll all be standing on a stage in various places talking about our commitment to win in November, and I want to not have one reason to be embarrassed to stand next to any one of them. If we can run the primary that way, if everybody can run it that way, then we’ll win the general election.”