In January, Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam told  the Knoxville News Sentinel that while, if he had it to do over again, he would not have signed on to New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s Mayor’s Against Illegal Guns group, he was wary that if he quit the group shortly after announcing for governor it would be seen as pandering to pro gun groups.
By March 19, Haslam’s name had disappeared  from the group’s Web site and he had renounced his membership . So, did he pander? Was it a mistake to quit the group? Or did the moderate Mayor have no choice but to genuflect before the same Second Amendment altar as much of the Republican primary electorate?
Bloomberg’s group has been the bane of many a second amendment enthusiast’s existence for some time.
Many in the gun rights community assert that the group seeks nothing less than the end of the private ownership of firearms. Now, while that may be hyperbole, the initiatives that the group have supported  in the pursuit of clamping down on illegal guns are not in step with the views of the average GOP primary voter and certainly not the average GOP primary voter in Tennessee.
Haslam concedes as much by asserting that Bloomberg has changed the group’s mission since he originally got involved telling the News Sentinel that he “had no intention then and no intention now to change any gun laws.”
Be that as it may, Mayor Bloomberg has been involved prominently and vocally with the group since its inception and while the group may have gotten progressively more offensive to the gun rights community, it has been troublesome for quite some time.
Haslam has had plenty of opportunities, had the group truly offended his sensibilities on guns, to withdraw from the group before now.
He neglected to do so.
Therefore, it is not a stretch to imagine that had Mayor Haslam not announced his intention to seek the office of Governor he would still be a member of the group today.
So, what Haslam did here may very well be pandering but, in the end, it had to be done.
Haslam may be conservative but he is not a conservative.
He can claim the adjective, but not the noun. He is not a man animated by red meat conservative cultural issues. His handlers may mold a message and create a persona that gives the impression to conservatives that he is “one of them” but it will be just that: a creation.
This is the reality of Republican politics in Tennessee. You don’t have to be a conservative to win a statewide Republican primary but you damn sure better act like one and you’d better assure the movement that you are are with them on the issues that matter to them — even if they matter very little to you.
Haslam, like Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander, can be independent and high-mindedly moderate all he wants but there are litmus tests and Haslam’s blue paper better come up red after it gets dropped into that conservative acid or there’s gonna be problems.
With two authentic conservatives, Rep. Zach Wamp and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, at his throat, Haslam simply cannot afford to take hits day after day on the campaign trail for being hooked up with “that anti-gun Mayor from up in New York City.” It is far better for Haslam to take absorb the damage now, withdraw from the group a year before facing an engaged electorate and be able to say that he has not been involved in the group for many, many months.
Haslam’s exit from Mayors Against Illegal Guns may have the whiff of pandering, but the stink on Haslam would be a magnitude worse had he tried to get through a hot summer primary next year carrying a liberal anti-gun New Yorker on his back.
Kleinheider is NashvillePost.com’s political blogger. Visit him at http://politics.nashvillepost.com