Government & Policy

Former Governor of Tennessee Bill Haslam on unifying the nation

July 6, 2022

Former Governor of Tennessee Bill Haslam on unifying the nation

Bill Haslam

Former Governor of Tennessee

Willy welcomes Bill Haslam, former governor of Tennessee and former two-term mayor of Knoxville.

Former Governor of Tennessee, Bill Haslam, learned valuable lessons during his time in office, including how to find common ground among allies and opponents. On this episode of the Walker Webcast, he and Willy discussed his book, Faithful Presence, his business and political career, factors impacting our nation's political divide, the role that faith should play in government, and so much more.  

Willy welcomes Bill Haslam, former two-term mayor of Knoxville, Tennessee, and former two-term Governor of Tennessee. Bill was reelected in 2014 with the largest victory margin of any election in Tennessee history. During his tenure, Tennessee became the fastest improving state in the country in K-12 education. In his term, Tennessee was the first state to provide free community college or technical school for all citizens and also added 475,000 net new jobs. Since then, Bill has served on the board of Teach for America and Young Life. He is a visiting professor of political science at Vanderbilt University. He is also a graduate of Emory University, and he and his wife of 40 years, Crissy, have three children and ten grandchildren. 

Willy starts off by asking Bill what made him change his mind about teaching and going to seminary school after he graduated. Bill describes how his father told him that if he wanted to end up in church, it would be a good idea to learn the business first so he could have that background and better empathize with people in the congregation. He intended to work for his father's family-run business, Pilot, for a few years but stayed for 20 because he loved the challenging and interesting environment. Bill left the very successful family company to become CEO of Saks Fifth Avenue because he was ready to be somewhere where his name wasn't on the door. Bill describes how it was the beginning of online fashion and was a big change and challenge, and how he didn't plan to be there long-term. About that time, a number of people started recruiting him for the Mayor of Knoxville. Bill explains the "Friday Five" by saying he started meeting every Friday morning with a group of four other guys to talk about life together. His wife, Crissy, told him he should consider running for mayor, and when he brought it to the five, they all said he should go for it. He states that these four men in his life knew him, so he trusted them to help him make the big decisions in his life. 

In his book, Faithful Presence, Bill extensively writes about how he loved being mayor and running the city of Knoxville. Bill talks about how Americans have become more performative in nature rather than informative. He states that we have become so separated and polarized that we can't solve problems, so we need to support people who can. Bill also describes how he felt very vulnerable when he ran because you are being evaluated all the time, and it makes you see yourself in ways you haven't seen yourself before. He also discusses how his business background helped him to develop an excellent team in office and understand the basic budget confidently. 

Willy asks Bill about the Affordable Care Act, and Bill sums up his decisions in office by stating that it's more important to get to the right answer than our answer. Bill also decided not to run for Senate because he had spent 16 years in office and wanted to go back to real life and he felt discouraged. Bill wanted to tackle the debt problem, but faced many people who didn't want to because it was too challenging. Bill goes on to talk about how hard-fought politics are in America's history, but now is the first time in history we can choose how to receive our news, and we like to hear information that confirms what we think. He discusses how America's views are split half and half as a nation, but no one thinks that because we only talk to people who think like us. 

Also, Bill talks about how people need to be more involved in politics but also care less about it too. Americans get frustrated with politics, and their reaction is to not get involved anymore, but he encourages people to not withdraw from the process and not to place their identity in politics. He states that people are not evil if they disagree with you. Willy also asks Bill about how to look for someone with faith in the office, and Bill talks about how Christians are called to be different. Bill goes on to say that we justify things politically as Christians that we would never justify in any other thing in our life because the stakes are so high. Bill discusses how Jesus calls us to be faithful regardless of the circumstances, and that truth is not relative. 

Willy and Bill then discuss that as a Christian, you should stay steadfast and sure in what you believe, but the other side might have a point. Bill states that you shouldn't change your view for political advantage, but you are allowed to change and come to new conclusions. Bill also talks about how Americans are hiring certain types of people to lead us, but we need to consider what are the good qualities of a boss that we would like to work for and hire the right candidates instead. Bill says some of the best leaders are people who were clear about the mission they were on and how the story wasn't about themselves. Bill also talks about how one big mistake he made as Governor was pushing off pardon requests until the end of the term. He discusses how the pardon of Cyntoia Brown received a lot of media attention, but he did his research, and Bill came to the conclusion that her life had been changed and that it was better for society to have her outside of prison than inside. He talks about how they have met several times since releasing her and that God created a beautiful tapestry of their story in that she was also praying for their decision of her pardon as well. In their closing remarks, Bill says that he isn't sure yet about running for the presidential election, but he hopes to serve in a public role again. 

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