Former two-term Knoxville mayor and two-term Tennessee governor Bill Haslam had strong words for attendees this week at a membership lunch for the Knoxville Area Urban League.
Stop playing games with politics and start electing people who are more concerned with solving real-life problems than with posting clever and mean things on social media.
“Outrage is the flavor of the day,” he said. “It is really easy to make a point. It is harder to make a difference.”
Haslam asked members of the crowd at the Knoxville Convention Center to raise their hands if they were “fed up with the state of politics.” All hands went up.
“We are really divided as a country,” Haslam said. “We are literally divided 50-50. We all live, worship and play with people who think like we do. And then we choose what news to watch based on what we believe. We all want to hear that we are right.”
But Haslam urged listeners to recall the words of his personal mentor, the late Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr., who said, “Always remember that the other guy might be right!”
Haslam, a longtime proponent of public education, asked audience members what they most often hear that school boards are discussing when they hear news coverage of local school board meetings. “Masks,” the crowd retorted.
“Right, masks,” Haslam said, adding that school boards should be dealing with much more important educational matters.
“Public education is crucial to who we want to be,” he said. “This stuff really matters. Who we elect really matters. This is not a game. Solving real problems matters. We should elect people who have solved problems before. Not just someone who had a catchy put-down on Twitter.”
Haslam said that America always has been a country good at inventing things. “But we have moved from inventing to venting,” he said.
In addition to Haslam’s frank comments, lunch-goers also heard good news from local Urban League President and CEO Phyllis Y. Nichols who announced that the Knoxville Area Urban League has received a $1.4 million grant to hire local “health navigators” to help increase the number of people in our community who have received COVID vaccinations and booster shots.
The Knoxville organization was one of six Urban League affiliates across the country to receive the grants from the U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration. The funds, which came from the American Rescue Plan, are designated to increase vaccine access for “the hardest-hit and most vulnerable communities,” according to a news release from the National Urban League. The health navigators will conduct outreach and engagement activities, the release said.