Is there a connection?

Two news stories ran in the last 48 hours got RTP to thinking.  And as our loyal readers know, that can be dangerous:

Sunday column: Harwell pops Haslam’s gas tax trial balloon

Ingram no longer a paid consultant to Haslam

In an uncharacteristic move for someone who has been slavishly loyal – at least in public – to the governor, Speaker Beth Harwell blindsided Bill Haslam’s gas tax.  Haslam, playing the role of useful idiot, reacted just like Harwell hoped he would:

“[A] one-time fix, a one-time spot of money really doesn’t solve our issue,” Haslam told reporters. “We have a long-term, multi-year, multi-billion dollar problem and we’re going to have to address that at some point in time.”

That’s why, the governor said, he plans to travel the state later this summer and make the case to Tennesseans for more money. The state’s $1.81 billion transportation program, which derives funding from dedicated gas and diesel taxes, is at a virtual standstill when it comes to making progress, he said.

Many observers (i.e., political hacks like the crew at Rocky Top) saw this as an attempt by Harwell to:

  • Avoid having to push what is sure to be an unpopular tax increase, and
  • Show some distance from an increasingly hapless chief executive who is rolling up one political defeat after another.

If Beth wants to run for Governor in 2018, she needs to show some separation from Haslam, and knee-capping him on the gas tax was ready-made for the task.

And Speaking of Running for Governor…..

Less than 24 hours after Harwell’s bolt from the blue came this little gem from Ingram:

Veteran political operative Tom Ingram has confirmed that he’s no longer serving as a paid consultant to Gov. Bill Haslam, ending a financial relationship that dates back to 2009.

“We’re still friends and I’d do anything I could to help him personally,” Ingram said in an interview.

He declined comment on reports the move was sparked by the governor refusing to follow Ingram’s advice on some matters, including Insure Tennessee. Ingram said he decided it was best to end official consulting “to avoid any issues or questions.”

A little dissection of this curious piece would be helpful here:

The first observation: Among those in the know (which obviously includes RTP), it has been known that Ingram had a falling out with Haslam and/or his consigliere, Mark Cate nearly a year ago. Odder still is why the Dean thinks that a year-old event (which was formalized by the contract ending at the end of last year) now merits a news article.

Seriously, why now with the Ingram piece? Here’s why: The article was classic “Ingram.” He obviously peddled this story to Humphrey and everyone who knows Ingram knows that everything he does is for a reason. Ingram likely said to Humphrey: “Ask me if my departure had anything to do with InsureTN,” to which Humphery dutifully asked: “Did you’re departure have anything to do with Insure TN,” to which Ingram grinningly replied: “No comment.”

See how that works? Ingram is the master of the planted story (aka: slipping in the velvet dagger) to ensure his version of events is the lead meme. But, again, for what purpose?  What does this have to do with Harwell?

RTP speculates the pants right off of that rhetorical question and posits that this has everything to do with Harwell. Last year at a reception (conveniently attended by a RTP source, naturally), Harwell spied Ingram speaking to a small group of people and sashays over to him and says: “Tom, I was just telling some folks over there that Lamar, Bob Corker and Bill Haslam are all here tonight and that I may be the only person in the room for whose campaign you have never consulted. We may just have to fix that, won’t we?” The implication was clear to those who witnessed the incident:   Harwell wanted people to gin up the rumor mill that she was going to run for governor in 2018 and that Ingram could/would be her consultant.

So Harwell declares her independence from Bill Haslam just hours apart from Tom Ingram doing the same thing.


We gossip. You decide.

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