Tucked away in a quiet Nashville neighborhood is the house Bill and Crissy Haslam have called home for the last 8 years.
“I’m about to lose my lease. I figured I would have as many people over before they kicked me out,” laughed Gov. Haslam.
He offered up a tour of the mansion that is filled with plenty of stories. He says his favorite space is the formal dining room. A painting of Tennessee’s first governor John Sevier hangs on the wall.
In the sunroom, the governor points to a picture of Elvis Presley who just happened to be a suitor of a former governor’s daughter.
“She said we dated until I found out there were others,” Gov. Haslam said.
And in the study, he recounts the story of a deal sealed in 1992 with Governor Ned McWherter and presidential candidate Bill Clinton. McWherter convinced Clinton to tap Tennessee Senator Al Gore as his running mate.
As the state’s 49th governor, Haslam has his own success stories to share. He made good on a promise to provide two years of free community college or technical school to Tennessee high school students.
“I think it’s about giving people a fairer shot and opportunity and that at the end of the day for most people is getting a public education,” said Haslam.
His partner in life and politics also made it her mission. As first lady, Crissy Haslam crisscrossed the state reading to students and encouraging them to do the same.
“I was talking to a group about reading 20 minutes a day and this little boy said, ‘Wait a minute. Are you the lady who is making us read 20 minutes every day?’ I said, ‘I’m going to be the least popular first lady ever.’”
Both the governor and first lady agree a hallmark of their administration was when Tennessee was rated the fastest improving state in the country for K-12 education.
“When we got the news, we just couldn’t believe it. We were shocked and surprised and happy. We had a celebration that night and we got it again two years later,” said Crissy Haslam.
Despite the academic gains, the Haslams admit there is still a long way to go.
“The reality is, if only 40 percent of our kids in third grade can read at grade level we need to introduce urgency into the system,” said the governor.
Now it’s up to the new governor to set his academic agenda. Meanwhile, the Haslam’s are preparing to return home.
“I’m looking forward to getting back to Knoxville and being with our family and re-engaging with our friends,” said Crissy Haslam.
But Bill Haslam says he’ll look back on the last 15 years as Knoxville mayor and Tennessee governor as the most rewarding of his career
“I will miss that feeling of walking in and thinking ‘this’ matters. I think that’s part of what we want to do as humans, is to have that kind of impact.”