NASHVILLE -- Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam in his inaugural address on Saturday stressed themes of unity, educational improvement and job creation in what is sizing up a politically difficult second term.
Haslam in his 11-minute speech called on Tennesseans to join him in ensuring that he hands off the baton to the next governor with the state in a better position than when he started.
"The time is right for us to take longer strides, to run harder, to reach further and to gain more ground," Haslam said. "To reach our full potential, we have to do it together."
Haslam in November won re-election with 70 percent of the vote against nominal Democratic opposition, carrying all 95 counties in the process. But Haslam's agenda faces strong challenges despite those lofty election results.
The governor has called a special legislative session starting on Feb. 2 to take up his proposal to extend health insurance to 200,000 low-income Tennesseans. The "Insure Tennessee" plan has strong support from hospital and business groups, but fellow Republicans are balking at the measure because it draws on money available under President Barack Obama's health care law.
The governor has acknowledged that he will need the votes of all Democrats in the state House and Senate to give the proposal a chance of passing.
Haslam did not mention the Medicaid proposal in his speech, nor did he specifically name Common Core education standards that have come under fire from tea party-leaning members of the Legislature. But the governor did issue a strong call to keep the focus on improving education in Tennessee.
"It is not an exaggeration to say that the eyes of the country are on us to see if we can continue to show the significant gains that we have made in the last several years," Haslam said. "Unfortunately, our history in Tennessee is to take two steps forward and then two steps backwards," Haslam said.
Haslam said the state needs to ensure students are qualified for the increasing skills requirements of the jobs market.
A group of about 75 protesters marched and chanted "Haslam, step off it -- the people over profit" near the plaza where the ceremony took place, but did not interfere with the proceedings.
The governor touted the accomplishments of his first term that included the country's first universal free community college program, caps on payouts from civil lawsuits, improving high school graduation rates and the addition of 210,000 new private sector jobs.
But Haslam said he won't become complacent in his second term.
"Despite our accomplishments and momentum, one of the things that I've realize during my term in office is that we haven't had nearly high enough expectations of ourselves," he said. "In many ways we've settled and haven't lived up to our full potential.
"So one thing I can guarantee that we are not going to do in the next four years in coast to the finish line," he said.