- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 13, 2015

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Mark Cate is leaving Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration after serving as Haslam’s campaign manager in 2010 and as the governor’s chief of staff after he took office.

Cate served as point man for many of the governor’s top legislative initiatives, including caps on payouts from successful civil lawsuits and changing teacher tenure rules. He also spearheaded this year’s failed effort to pass Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal to extend health coverage to 280,000 low-income people.

“Mark has been a key player and a valuable part of our team since my first campaign for governor,” Haslam said in a statement. “He is talented at keeping a lot of balls in the air at the same time and keeps us moving forward as a team.

Cate is the latest Cabinet member to leave early in Haslam’s second term. Others include former Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman; Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty; and chief legal counsel Herbert Slatery, who was appointed attorney general.

Cate was a political unknown when Haslam named the real estate developer and former Maryville College financial officer as his campaign manager in 2009. Cate navigated Haslam through a tricky GOP primary and to a resounding win in the general election.

“It has been the highlight and highest honor of my career to serve Governor Haslam and to be a part of the incredible team of talented women and men he has assembled,” Cate said in a release.

Cate was first named special adviser when Haslam took office, but was elevated to chief of staff after the retirement of adviser Claude Ramsey in 2013. He became the target of tea-party styled lawmakers in the 2014 primaries for what Rep. Rick Womick, R-Murfreesboro, in a letter to Cate decried as “the treasonous targeting” of incumbents who crossed the governor on education issues such as Common Core education standards.

“That is totally crazy,” Cate told the Chattanooga Times Free Press at the time. “I had no involvement at all. This is crazy. I have no idea why he’s picked us out, but it’s totally untrue.”

Cate sometimes often played the role of the enforcer as the Haslam administration tried to get lawmakers to approve key legislation. That hard line, though, was sometimes undercut by the governor’s own desire to avoid conflict and hard feelings.

Cate plans to establish a strategic consulting and management firm after leaving the Haslam administration this summer.

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