Haslam: Lack of details of Asia trip not a big deal

Governor says business trip to Japan, Korea was 'productive'

Gov. Bill Haslam said he’s unsure what the big deal was last week when his office declined to give details of his trip to Asia.

Haslam spent two days last week in Tokyo, Japan and two days in Seoul, Korea meeting with company leaders in face-to-face meetings with CEOs about bringing their businesses to Tennessee.

“I’m not sure, quite frankly, how it turned into such a big secret. Like I said, in terms of sharing who we were meeting with, I don’t think we were ever going to do that because we don’t for obvious reasons. But I don’t know that the rest of it was a big secret,” he said.

Haslam jokingly blamed “Erik [Schelzig]’s fertile imagination” for making the absence of his trip details an issue, referring to the Associated Press reporter who wrote about the governor’s office refusing to say where Haslam was.

The governor’s public schedule indicated the governor would be in Asia for an economic development trip, but his spokesman declined to offer additional details on where specifically he would be. Staff from the Department of Economic and Community Development later said the trip’s purpose is to engage in talks about establishing airline connections with Tennessee, but also declined details on the governor’s whereabouts.

Haslam said on his trip he visited with Tennessee soldiers stationed in Korea and said he had “interesting” conversations with businesses that have already chosen to locate operations in Tennessee but are looking to do more.

“I think there were people favorably disposed with that. If you’re going halfway around the world you hope to know it was productive and I felt like it was,” Haslam said.

Also from the press conference:

- In gauging how long to keep embattled Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman on staff, Haslam said he listens to parent, teacher, superintendent and legislative frustration, but will ultimately hinge any decisions on “what’s the right thing for students.

“I understand that Commissioner Huffman is controversial. I also understand we’re doing a lot of difficult things in education,” he said. Haslam said tea party legislators gave his staff a heads up they were going to write a letter targeted at Huffman, but the lawmakers refused invitations to meet with his office instead. “If you’re going to write a letter instead of coming in to talk, to me it says you’re not really concerned with getting to the right answer.”

- Haslam said U.S. Senator Bob Corker’s idea to raise the gas tax would help the state. “Whether that’s the right thing or not, Congress will have to debate that out. But will that help Tennessee, sure it would.”

Haslam said the Department of Transportation is already working on a tight budget from the federal government to pick and chose the most important projects, but said without some action, TDOT will eventually get to a point where it has to contemplate whether it can fund any projects.

- Talks between the state and Volkswagen have resumed, Haslam said, but it’s premature to say they’ve got a done deal. “We’re having very productive conversations with them,” he said, citing his last face-to-face conversation happening in the last two weeks.

- Haslam said it’s no secret that the state is putting less money into higher education than it did decades ago. The governor said he met with top officials at the Tennessee Board of Regents and the University of Tennessee two weeks ago to figure out how to balance how much the state contributes and how much students pay with what colleges do to control costs.