With exactly 100 days left in his term of office (as of today), Gov. Bill Haslam and his wife, Crissy, last night had a casual chat with 100 or so community leaders who are the biggest donors to the United Way of Greater Knoxville.
Held at the Lauricella Center at Neyland Stadium, which is named after Hank Lauricella, the late best friend of the governor’s father, Jim Haslam, the highlight of the event featured the elder Haslam interviewing the governor and First Lady after dinner.
Here are some highlights of the mostly lighthearted exchange:
- Gov. Haslam said the most satisfying part of being governor has been succeeding in “opening the world of education” to Tennesseans who never thought of themselves as the kind of people who could go to college. This has been accomplished through various programs to make college financially accessible to high schoolers and adults alike.
- All three Haslams emphasized the need to encourage more people to run for public office — particularly local offices such as school board seats and City Council. “Think small,” Crissy Haslam said. “It’s a huge opportunity to make a difference. And develop a thick skin.”
- They urged the audience not to be demoralized by the current bitter partisanship that divides the country today. “If you get discouraged by whatever cable news you watch, go to a community and you will be encouraged,” Gov. Haslam said. “If you want to learn about America, go door to door. We are going to be all right.” Jim Haslam said that if his mentor, the late U.S. Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker, were alive today, he’d say, “The Republic will survive.”
- Gov. Haslam said that when he decided to run for mayor of Knoxville more than 16 years ago, he worried that some would think it was just one more way that his father was trying to control everything in town. So, when he knocked on one door in North Knoxville, he cringed when the man who answered the door said, “Haslam? Are you related to Jim Haslam?” The candidate admitted that Jim Haslam was his father. “The one who used to play football?” the man asked. “Yes,” Bill Haslam said. “Whatever happened to him?” the fellow asked, to Bill Haslam’s relief.
- Crissy Haslam said that when she and her husband went to Nashville eight years ago, they had three children but no grandchildren. Today, they have eight grandchildren and she looks forward to returning to Knoxville to be closer to them. “But I’m not going to be a full-time babysitter!” she emphasized.
- Gov. Haslam related that his term will be up in exactly 100 days from today. “It’s been the honor of a lifetime,” he said. “We have loved it.”
The dinner last night was for members of the Alexis de Tocqueville Society, which consists of people who gave $10,000 or more to the United Way of Greater Knoxville last year. It was first established in 1991 with two members — Jim Haslam and Jim Clayton. Today, there are 162 members, who together last year contributed $5.4 million — which was 40 percent of United Way’s total goal of $13.4 million.
Still, University of Tennessee-Knoxville Chancellor Emeritus Jimmy Cheek, the chair of the United Way campaign this year, said the organization is challenged to keep the next generation engaged in charitable giving. While the amount of money raised by United Way has remained constant or grown slightly, the number of givers has fallen off.
Additionally, this year’s campaign has been hit hard by the buyout of a prominent company in town. The new owners have decided that the company will not participate in United Way this year. Last year, that company contributed 8 percent of the campaign’s total.
Click here for an essay that Jim Haslam wrote about his best friend, Hank Lauricella.