Haslam Wins Tennessee Governor's Race

Former head of Pilot chain heads to Nashville

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Republican Bill Haslam has been elected Tennessee's 49th governor, overcoming his rival's claims that he was a "billionaire oil man," according to a report by the Associated Press. He beat Democrat Mike McWherter 65% to 33%.

He went to Nashville to meet with Governor Phil Bredesen and Nashville Mayor Karl Dean on Wednesday to work on transition issues. He said that his top priority is preparing for a state budget that he said will shrink up to $1.5 billion after federal stimulus money runs out next year.

Democratic incumbent Bredesen could not [image-nocss] run again because of term limits, said the report.

Haslam was president of the family-owned Pilot chain of truckstops, one of the country's largest privately owned companies, until he was elected mayor of Knoxville, Tenn., in 2003.

Knoxville, Tenn.-based Pilot Flying J as it is now know after a merger with Flying J, operates more than 550 truck travel centers in 43 states and six Canadian provinces. The company employs more than 20,000 people and is the largest retail operator of travel centers in North America. Jimmy Haslam is currently chief executive officer.

During the campaign, McWherter accused Haslam of having business connections with Iran, according to WSMV-TV. McWherter's campaign questioned Pilot's business partners.

"This is not a question about how much money he makes," McWherter said. "Everyone knows oilmen are extremely wealthy and that the Haslam family are wealthy. This is about who Bill Haslam owes and the type of people he surrounds himself with in business."

In 2008, a Luxembourg-based company called CVC Capital acquired 47.5% of Pilot Travel Centers. CVC Capital also owns a 25% in a German chemicals and energy company called Evonik. McWherter said Evonik has offices in Iran.

"Nearly half of Pilot's interest is foreign-owned, and at least one of those foreign companies is doing business with Iran: a rogue nation that is developing nuclear weapons and poses a threat to our national security," he said.

During the campaign, WLX Radio asked Haslam about the charges. "It has nothing to do with Pilot. It's just political junk," he told the news outlet. "I think that's the kind of stuff that really turns people off of politics, when people just throw stuff out there for no reason."

McWherter also challenged Haslam on Pilot's 2008 price-gouging settlements and Haslam's refusal to release his income from Pilot, said the report.

A Haslam's spokesperson responded to McWherter's allegations, saying, "This is silly and insulting to the voters of Tennessee, and Haslam will continue to be out on the trail talking to voters about what matters: creating jobs, managing the budget and strengthening education."

Haslam's lack of financial disclosure about Pilot has been a long-running criticism from his opponents. He has said the reason he won't disclose his income from Pilot is because it would potentially hurt a privately owned company.