Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Governor Pilot?

With a little more than a year left in office for Tennessee’s two-term Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, the Volunteer State is already rumbling under the wheels of would-be successors. One of those is Bill Haslam, whose family started Pilot Travel Centers; he has been the corporation’s president for 18 years.

Flying the Republican standard from his aerials, Haslam has served as mayor of Knoxville for the past six years. According to his campaign Web site,, things haven’t been so good in Knoxville since Robert Mitchum roared to his eternal reward down Kingston Pike in “Thunder Road.”

One claim, that he “Knows when to listen and when to lead,” passed through my head in a distinctly husky, Kenny Rogers-style voice – I suppose every campaign’s a winner and every one’s a loser, and the best you can hope for is that they spell your name right.

It would be encouraging to see someone with legitimate roots in the transportation industry take over the Governor’s mansion in Nashville. I would hope one of his priorities would be to truly clean up the Tennessee Highway Patrol’s miserable record of cronyism and political patronage.

What if the state’s budget woes continue and the temptation to close rest stops arises? Despite a federal ban on commercializing state facilities, cash-strapped states like Virginia that are closing rest stops think commercializing them could be an answer. Naturally, the established truck stop industry says no way. As governor, Haslam could be facing a political and personal dilemma.

I also hope he’d aggressively pursue the “hot fuel” issue, which robs millions of truckers using Tennessee’s hundreds of miles of Interstates. That may prove to be a thornier issue, because Pilot was one of a number of truck fuel providers named in a class action lawsuit brought by truckers and highway users to address the problem.

It’s not too early to pose these questions to Candidate Haslam; in fact, this is the best time, before the primaries arrive – that way, we’ll know what kind of a pilot will be steering the Volunteer State.