Editor's note: Earlier this week the USA TODAY NETWORK of Tennessee requested an open letter from Governor Bill Haslam to tell the next governor, this in a wonderful crowd of candidates, what will happen to the person after they win. Usually I am a little leery of some “ghost writer” penning any such letter on the Governor’s orders.
But the letter that was submitted, and seen across the state this week, was a great reflection on a family who done as much or more than any other in the Volunteer state. “Big Jim” Haslam grew the billion-dollar giant out of one tiny filling station. Today “Big Jim,” who was a team captain of a Tennessee team under General Neyland and with his two sons, Jimmy and Bill, have now guided 550 fuel service centers in 23 states. Pilot Oil and Flying J have almost 25,000 employees.
Bill will be remembered as one of the best governors in the state’s history and in his effort to inform our next top leader, to read his advice is quite poignant to those of us who can see how brilliantly Haslam is working towards a seamless transition in November.
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TENNESSEE GOVERNOR BILL HASLAM WRITES TO HIS SUCCESSOR
First of all, congratulations! You have been elected after a campaign that lasted almost two years. While it might be one of the hardest things you have ever done, everything you have learned in the campaign will help you to be a better governor for this state that we both love. As Lamar Alexander told me when I was elected, “Being governor of your state is a great job, unless your home state is Tennessee, and then it’s the best job in the whole world.”
You have spent these last months trying to get in front of as many of Tennessee’s 6.6 million citizens as you could to tell them your story. Everything changes now. From now on, all of those 6.6 million Tennesseans will be trying to get in front of you to tell you their story. From this day forward, you will never have enough time to do everything that you would like to do, or to meet with everyone who would like to meet with you.
The most important thing you can do right now is start to hire your team. You have 23 commissioners who will lead the agencies and several key positions in the governor’s office. Nothing is more important than hiring the right people for those roles. The State of Tennessee is a $37 billion enterprise with over 40,000 employees. While you are responsible for everything, you can’t possibly be as involved in every issue as you would like to be. Hire great people!
Also, no offense intended, but a lot of what was talked about during the campaign will not be the issues that end up on your desk as governor. Instead, you will be dealing with issues like:
* -- How do we keep the cost of TennCare from eating up our entire budget, while still providing great health care to our most vulnerable citizens and adequately compensating our health care providers?
* -- How do we move into the top half of states for education results? We have made great progress in education. In fact, we have made more progress than any other state. But, we still have a long way to go. The forces that want to drag us back into mediocrity don’t like the higher standards and increased accountability that have been put into place. We can go backwards just as fast as we rose out of the bottom tier.
* -- How do we prove to employers that we have the workforce that they need? The Drive to 55 with Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect has paid big dividends. You will have to be the spokesperson to remind the state that the jobs of the future are going to require a lot more post-secondary training.
* -- Managing the state’s budget will become your most important job of all. You will be constantly presented with more ways that we should spend money. You won’t be deciding between good ideas and bad ideas, but multiple worthy ideas. You will also want to make certain that we continue to be the state with the lowest taxes and debt in the nation. It’s a hard combination, but it’s what you were elected to do.
I could go on and on with challenges like maintaining our infrastructure, serving our citizens who battle mental health, substance abuse and family issues, providing jobs for our disabled population and helping our agricultural community. You will also be proud to work with our National Guard troops stationed all around the world.
Finally, remember that you have been elected governor, not king or queen. The General Assembly will be a big part of your life as governor. Unlike most states, it only takes a simple majority of the members to override your veto. So, my advice would be to work with them as much as possible on the front end of legislation. Also, a lot of their membership and leadership will be new this year. You won’t be the only new student in the school!
I hope you will love this job as much as I have. I hope that every day you walk up the steps to the Capitol, you get the same sense of excitement that I still do after eight years. You will also have troopers driving you everywhere and you will live in a house behind a big gate. It will take some getting used to. Crissy and I spent our first few nights in the house wondering when someone was going to come and kick us out. I hope you’ll love the upstairs balcony at the Governor’s Residence as much as we have. It’s my favorite place in all of Nashville.
In summary, hire great people, work with the legislature, encourage continued growth in education outcomes, enjoy the chance to be a part of a team that is serving the entire state, and love every day of this wonderful job. Crissy and I will be cheering for you. Call if we can help.