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Governor: Veto Often Makes Little Sense; Best to Work with Lawmakers for Fitting Compromises

by Alex Harris on April 3, 2012

Although Gov. Bill Haslam sees it as part of his job to rein in exceedingly controversial or notably weird bills the Legislature may be pushing, Haslam said Tuesday he’s actually rather hesitant to veto legislation that doesn’t seem imminently harmful to the state.

The governor pointed out that regardless of his views on any particular piece of legislation, if the Legislature is of a mind to make something law, it is going to happen with or without his approval.

“Some of those laws pass with 80 percent vote,” said Haslam. “In the end, a governor’s veto can be overridden with just one vote positive.”

Gov. Haslam fielded reporters’ questions Tuesday outside the spring 2012 College Completion Academy conference, where he was moderating a forum on how to increase student graduation and retention rates in the state. The event took place at the Cool Springs Marriott.

Here are some excerpts of the press conference:

Q: Are you working to try to head off the “Guns in Trunks” bill, or get it modified?

Haslam: Like I said all along, we don’t like the current form, so yeah, I think it’s safe to say that we’d like to see something different come out of that. I think it’s a fairly heated discussion in a lot of fronts right now.

Q: The big problem is the whole — is it just the hunting license piece, that that opened it up to a lot more people?

Haslam: I think the schools – I think the folks here would tell you that schools are a concern. I think there’s some other pieces – like I said, I just all along felt like it was a little too broad, and would like to see it narrowed some, and I think several people feel that way.

Q: You’ve mentioned frustration at some of the coverage of state government instead of the Legislature specifically. You’ve had to work as a sort of moderating force, to some extent, during the session. Is that somewhere you hope to be as governor, and cover the drawbacks of some of the more extreme elements of your own party?

Haslam: I think maybe what any governor focuses on, if you look at governors around the country, we’re charged with running state government on a day-to-day basis and all of the services you’re provided. So we’re always going to tend to focus more on service delivery and those key things about – I’ve said before, that’s what I see state government being, ‘How do we provide the very best service?’ So, I don’t think my situation is any different than other governors. I have some Democratic governor friends who say, ‘Oh, yeah, people in my party are trying to pass this and that, and I’m trying to bring them back to focus on these things.’ I don’t think my situation’s all that unusual.

Q: The stuff that may not make a whole lot of change in the law, why wouldn’t you veto these sort of laws that don’t do anything?

Haslam: It’s a fair question, but some of those laws pass with 80 percent vote. In the end, a governor’s veto can be overridden with just one vote positive. So I think the lesson is to try to engage in the process as much as you can. And then there’s certain things that are things that you might say, ‘That’s not exactly what I would do, but I don’t think it’s necessarily harmful to the state.’ Other things you say, ‘I think that is harmful to the state,’ and you jump in.

Q: Governor, you engaged in a bit of media criticism in there, which is similar to things we’ve heard before about you think we should pay more attention to the weightier issues. One might argue that the media only covers what happens, and to some extent the Legislature provides the fodder. Is it really a criticism of the Legislature in this regard, that they’re doing lackey things, and the media covers it?

Haslam: No, I would come back and say then, look at the amount of coverage on certain issues which may or may not ever get passed … and then weigh them against their impact on the state. Whether that be an education initiative, or changing the tax structure, or some crime prevention, those are things that really, really impact Tennesseans every day. And some of the ones that grab headlines, I think they’re fun for discussion, but a month from now and a year from now they’re really not going to impact Tennessee that much.

Q: But you don’t blame the lawmakers for bringing those in the first place, knowing full well that they’re shiny objects that will draw attention?

Haslam: (Laughing) You’re pointing fingers awfully a lot. I will blame them when the media says, ‘Yeah, we can do a better job of being substantive about issue coverage.’

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