Bill Haslam: Saying goodbye to a statesman, longtime friend

On Thursday, Tennessee lost a hero and a distinguished statesman, and I lost a friend and mentor.
Jul 2, 2014
Gov. Bill Haslam

On Thursday, Tennessee lost a hero and a distinguished statesman, and I lost a friend and mentor. 

Howard Baker made Tennesseans proud, and he taught me an important lesson when I worked for him 35 years ago. Anytime he was sitting across the desk from someone in disagreement, he told himself to keep in mind: You know – the other fellow might be right. 

Whether at home, in business or in politics, that is always good advice to consider. Nancy, Cissy, Derek and his entire family are in Crissy’s and my thoughts and prayers. The flags over the state Capitol and all state office buildings were flown in Howard’s honor until sunset Tuesday, after his funeral service.

Part of a governor’s job is to define reality, and when the reality is not good, to do something to address it. We have a serious problem with prescription drug abuse in Tennessee. Nearly 5 percent of our adult population in Tennessee – 221,000 adults – have used pain relievers known as prescription opioids in the last year for non-medical purposes, and of those 221,000, it’s estimated that 69,100 are addicted and require treatment. 

It’s going to require the combined efforts of a lot of people to solve the problem, and we’ve begun to do that with a comprehensive, multi-year strategic plan to reduce the misuse and abuse of prescription drugs called “Prescription for Success.” 

The issue is complex, and it will take time to rid our state of this problem, as much as we would like to solve it tomorrow. We hope all Tennesseans will support this effort. 

In June, I traveled to South Korea and Japan to meet with companies with major investments in Tennessee as well as companies considering expansion into our state. As most Tennesseans know, we have a long-standing relationship with Japan. Japan is our largest foreign investor nation, with 172 Japanese-owned businesses investing $15.6 billion in the state’s economy and employing nearly 42,000 Tennesseans. 

A highlight of the five-day trip was visiting with Tennessee troops stationed at the U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan in Seoul.

Crissy has certainly had a busy month, and almost all of it spent with young children. After welcoming our fourth grandchild to the world a few weeks ago, she’s been on a statewide swing to launch the First Lady’s Read20 Book Patrol, a project partnering with law enforcement across the state to distribute thousands of books (donated by Penguin Young Readers Group) to elementary school children over the summer. 

We know that access to books can be a barrier for summer reading, particularly for students who live in at-risk communities, and Crissy and I are grateful that our police officers across Tennessee are joining with us to get books to children who need them most. Click here to see highlights from some of her visits.  

We hope you and your family are doing well and have plans to enjoy Fourth of July weekend as we give thanks for our many freedoms in this country and those who have fought to secure and protect them. 

As always, we welcome your feedback on the items mentioned above or anything else that’s on your mind. 

Bill Haslam is governor of Tennessee. Email him at


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