Haslam Defends Highway Patrol Infiltration of Occupy Nashville

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Gov. Bill Haslam put his own spin today on last week’s news that the highway patrol went undercover and infiltrated Occupy Nashville. It turns out the troopers weren’t spying on the peaceful protesters. No, the troopers were there to protect Occupy Nashville, just as the demonstrators requested. We’re glad that’s all straightened out.

Also, in one of his patented catch-him-while-you-can availabilities with reporters after a National Governors Association meeting at the Vanderbilt Plaza hotel, Haslam revealed a completely new understanding of how to make government regulations. Now, thanks to the intervention of a federal judge and the outrage of much of the state, Haslam realizes there’s a democratic process that the government generally follows before dragging political opponents off to jail. Here’s the Q&A:

Q: What are you doing regarding Occupy Nashville and new rules for use of the plaza?

Haslam: There’s a rule-making process that we need to go through, which we will do. We’re going to involve a lot of different people in that discussion. What is the right use for state property, whether it be Capitol grounds of War Memorial Plaza or anything else. We intend to get a lot of input from constitutional lawyers and users of the space and other folks, so we can then start the rule-making process.

Q: Do you regret making those arrests?

Haslam: Number one, as we always said, our primary emphasis there and our primary responsibility was safety. That’s why we acted that day. Obviously, the federal judge says you need to have the rules set before you do that. So we thought, given all that, the best thing to do was to ask the DA to drop those charges.

Q: Do you think it was appropriate for the highway patrol the infiltrate a group of peaceful protesters?

Haslam: I don’t know if I’d call it infiltrate. Remember, the Occupy Nashville folks had said we need some more presence here. And I think what you had was highway patrol officers trying to get a better sense of exactly how big a problem was there.

Q: Have you been getting a lot of complaints since the arrests about what’s happening on the plaza?

Haslam: You know, this is one of those that there’s a lot of opinions on. I have a lot of people who thought that when we went in and tried to implement a curfew that we were wrong. I’ve had a whole lot of people say I can’t believe that’s happening on that property. If I went and set up a tent there four weeks ago, would you have let me stay. So there’s a lot of passionate feelings around it on both sides.

Q: So you’re saying the highway patrol went undercover to protect the protesters, not to spy on them?

Haslam: I haven’t had that exact conversation in terms of what motivated that, but my understanding was … there had been a lot of complaints about the activity here. We were getting a lot of complaints. It’s been portrayed as well that was coming from some Republican legislatures. That was coming from Republicans, Democrats, people who use the plaza, etc. And so I think the highway patrol said we need to go in and understand exactly what is the situation there.

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