(T-G Photo by John I. Carney) [Order this photo]
Stephen Smith of Brentwood, a former president of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' and Exhibitors' Association, introduced Haslam.
"Bill Haslam is a moral guy. Straight-up guy. What you see is what you get," said Smith.
Haslam recalled a previous visit to the Celebration.
"I ate a whole box of donuts on the way back to Nashville," laughed Haslam.
Haslam said he believes that the next governor will have a difficult job.
"I don't think our state's ever faced bigger challenges than it faces right now," said Haslam. He said that this year's state budget includes a billion dollars in federal stimulus revenue and $200 million from the state's "rainy day fund" which won't be available in the next fiscal year. Haslam, who stressed his business experience -- he and his brother built the Pilot chain of truck stops -- said the state doesn't have the option of raising revenue. While he said he believes recovery is on the way he does not believe there will be enough recovery this year to make up the shortfall, and he said he is adamantly opposed to a state income tax. So he said the state will need to cut expenses to make ends meet.
Haslam said many people pay lip service to running government like a business until the point when hard, businesslike decisions must be made. He said that as mayor, he cut Knoxville's debt by 30 percent and that Knoxville's budget is lower in real dollars than it was three years ago, with a low property tax rate.
"I think it matters who we elect to office," he said.
Haslam said he will have a staff member focused on economic development in rural communities.
"We can make a difference in bringing jobs here," he said.
He noted the heavy impact that tourism, including the Celebration, has on the state's economy.
(T-G Photo by John I. Carney)
Haslam told the Times-Gazette he was pleased by the announcement that Tennessee was a winner in the "Race To The Top" education grant program.
"I think the long-term impact is going to be very significant," he said.
The party primary for the governor's race will take place in August, with the general election in November. Incumbent Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, is unable to run again due to term limit requirements. Haslam's opponents in the Republican race include Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp. Democratic candidates include former House Majority Leader Kim McMillan and businessman Mike McWherter, the son of former governor Ned McWherter.