State Rep. Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, endorsed Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam for governor today, and reflected on what she said was a shocking experience.
It happened when Haslam went to visit Harwell at her legislative office a few months ago.
“He sat down and he asked me a series of questions, just such bright questions regarding education and state government. He sat and listened intently to my responses, and to tell you the truth, I was shocked that such a successful man would sit and listen to me,” Harwell said at a gathering of Haslam supporters today at his Nashville campaign office.
“And then I realized that’s part of the reason why he is such a successful man.”
Harwell, former head of the state Republican Party, will serve as a co-chair of the Haslam campaign along with David Kustoff of Memphis who had been statewide chairman for Bill Gibbons, the Shelby County District Attorney General, who dropped out of the gubernatorial campaign a few weeks ago.
Former U.S. Sen. Howard Baker is the honorary chairman of the Haslam campaign, and U.S. Rep. John Duncan, R-Knoxville, has endorsed Haslam and is serving as honorary co-chair.
Harwell’s announcement comes at a time endorsements are picking up in the governor’s race. One of Haslam’s primary opponents, U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, Friday announced the endorsement of entertainer Pat Boone, who is the national spokesman for the 60 Plus Association, a non-partisan advocacy group for seniors. Wamp has certainly wrapped up the music industry support in the campaign, with a series of music stars publicly backing the congressman.
The other major contender for the Republican nomination, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, launched a fund-raising drive today that is unusual for its timing. As a sitting legislator, Ramsey was restricted by law from raising money during the legislative session or by May 15 if the legislature is still at work. So today, the Ramsey campaign began with a goal of gaining 1,000 new donors in 60 hours.
All three of the candidates have visited Gibbons at the criminal justice center in Shelby County. But Gibbons has not yet endorsed in the race. Memphis is considered an important battleground in the primary.
Harwell today said she gave a lot of thought to whom she might support.
“The other folks running are friends of mine, and they’re good people, so I gave it some serious consideration,” she said. “But I think Bill Haslam is the right guy.”
Harwell said Haslam’s management experience in both the public and private sectors are key. Haslam’s family runs Pilot Corp., known for the Pilot Travel Centers along roadways, and Harwell described the family as a “true American success story.”
One item that got Harwell’s attention was Haslam’s record of building up the rainy day fund in Knoxville.
“He will make sure we don’t overspend, and maintaining the rainy day fund is so critical to our bond rating,” she said. “A lot of people think that money is just set aside for the sake of it. No, we need that for our bond rating.
“I also think he has an eye for future generations and what he will leave for those future generations. So I think he has it all.”