NASHVILLE -- On a sunny Saturday made intermittently frigid by bursts of wind, Goverrnor Bill Haslam took the oath of office for a second time Saturday on Nashville’s War Memorial Plaza — the state Capitol building behind him and a decently sized and reasonably appreciative audience seated on folding chairs in front of him.
A not-so-sanguine group of protesters, including several from Memphis, had shadowed the inauguration preliminaries all the way from a Saturday-morning prayer breakfast at the legendary Ryman Auditorium to the Union St. fringe of the Plaza, where state troopers made sure they kept their distance behind a modest barricade.
The protesters flashed a variety of signs behind a large banner demanding, “PUT THE PEOPLE FIRST,” and chanted things like “Can’t take it no more! Get fired up!” and “Haslam, step off it. Put people over profit!”
The Governor himself took a rosier view of his accomplishments, insisting early in his address that the state, under his administration, had made progress toward “a more effective and efficient state government,” “better education opportunities and outcomes,” and “high quality, good paying Tennessee jobs and a business environment that gives companies the confidence to invest their capital right here in Tennessee.”
Haslam’s remarks were unusually brief and, for the most part, avoided specifics. They also avoided mention of such hot-button issues as Common Core and, notably, of “Insure Tennessee,” his proposal for Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, which will be the focus of a special legislative session within the session, beginning February 2.
Some hint that he intends a more aggressive attitude than in his first term was contained in a key paragraph of the address: “But despite our accomplishments and momentum, one of the things that I’ve realized during my time in office is that we haven’t had nearly high enough expectations of ourselves. In many ways, we’ve settled and haven’t lived up to our full potential. So one thing I can guarantee you that we are not going to do in the next four years is coast to the finish line….”
After a few after-speech parties here and there in the vicinity of the Capitol and the culminating inaugural ball on Saturday night at the Omni Hotel, the schedule calls for a brief cessation in legislative activity. The break will end, no doubt dramatically, with the onset of the special session, in which both the Governor’s clout and his new resolve on health care will be put to the test.
Meanwhile, newly installed state Senator Lee Harris of Memphis, who was elected Senate Democratic leader as a freshman, continues to be front and center, having served as one of three official Senate “escorts” to lead Haslam to his seat at the beginning of Saturday’s ceremony.