NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Gov. Bill Haslam on Friday defended including his support for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in his official statement about the Supreme Court's decision to uphold much of the new federal health care law.
In a four-paragraph statement released to the media and posted on YouTube after the high court's decision, Haslam concluded that "by electing Mitt Romney, we can be sure that the entire law will be repealed."
Haslam told reporters after an event at the governor's mansion that he included the language because "people want to know what you think about things."
"I didn't send it out on state email to all our employees or anything" he said. "As governor they say, 'What do you think?' And that's what I think about it."
State Democrats criticized the Republican governor for what they called partisan commentary at government expense.
"There should be consequences for wasting our tax dollars on political campaigning," spokesman Brandon Puttbrese said in a statement. "It's an abuse of power that cheats Tennesseans and intimidates state workers."
Puttbrese noted that TennCare Director Darin Gordon included the governor's full statement in an email to the expanded Medicaid program's employees. A TennCare spokeswoman did not return a message seeking comment on Friday afternoon.
Dick Williams, chairman of Common Cause Tennessee, called Haslam's political comments unfortunate.
"I don't know that it's something that you could charge him with an ethics violation over," Williams said. "But it would have been better if he just stuck to the policy issues and not injected partisan issues into it."
Drew Rawlins, executive director of the Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, was out of the office on Friday and nobody else was available to speak to the media about whether a violation may have occurred.