Gov. Bill Haslam wasted little time before he fielded questions Thursday from members of the Lebanon Breakfast Rotary Club.
A flurry of questions came from the packed house at the Lebanon Golf and Country Club but not before Haslam had some questions of his own for the audience. Simply, he asked, “What do you want out of the governor?”
The first response was “leadership.”
“We want to be the best state in the nation for high-quality jobs,” Haslam said. “We are governing today for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”
He said about 80,000 jobs were created since he took office about two years ago, which were due to sound regulations and cheaper taxes.
Haslam was complimentary of the state’s technical centers, where he said both the graduation rate and job placement were at 90 percent. Lebanon Mayor Philip Craighead made the governor aware of a new technology center planned for the city near the old Lebanon High School.
Another person responded, “to keep us safe.”
“People ultimately care about their house on their street,” Haslam said.
He also said state officials have worked to keep Second Amendment rights to bear arms protected while also increasing security for the recent Nashville marathon following a bombing at the Boston Marathon.
Another voice from the crowd answered, “to be honest and tell the truth.”
“You don’t always get to explain what you do,” Haslam said, referring to what he called the media’s need for 30-second answers on tough decisions.
Still another person answered, provide “tools to educate.”
“Jobs…That’s what it boils down to,” Haslam said.
He said 55 percent of jobs in Tennessee require at least a two-year college degree, but only 32 percent of the population has achieved that level of education.
“We have a huge training gap, and we have to change it,” he said.
But Haslam said Tennessee has one of the highest aggregate gains in high school test scores and significant increases in graduation rates.
“We have to create a high-quality workforce, and make sure our kids won’t fall beind,” he said. “It really means starting early.”
Haslam also said the state has worked to place an emphasis on vocational education with a shortage of welders, information technology specialists, engineers and truck drivers.
“We are not just competing against the county next door or the state next door,” Haslam said. “We are competing against the world.”
Haslam also noted his administration’s push for fiscal responsibility, calling it “planning for the future.”
“The most responsible thing we can do is set up the budget that’s right for Tennessee,” he said, noting the state has the third lowest rank in debt per person.
Haslam thanked Sen. Mae Beavers and Reps. Mark Pody and Susan Lynn for their help in passing the budget during the General Assembly that ended in April.
“You shouldn’t sleep as well worrying about the federal government,” he said. “I can guarantee you the people in the governor’s office and other offices care about fiscal responsibility.”
Haslam said non-specifically there were several industries looking to locate to Tennessee.
“We feel comfortable where we are with at least one company,” he said.
Haslam also dispelled rumors he would run for president in 2016. He said he had 10 reasons why he wouldn’t run, but his wife probably had 100 reasons.
At the end of the meeting, Ann Markham Walsh, author of “Dancing Through Darkness,” presented Haslam with a copy of her book signed by main character and Holocaust survivor Saartje “Selma” Wijnberg Engel.
Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto introduced Haslam.
"Gov. Haslam is doing exactly what he promised when he took office," Haslam said. "When he talks, people listen. He's real, and I applaud him for that."