Republican Bill Lee is hoping to do something no Tennessean has accomplished in nearly 60 years — be elected governor without having previously run for public office. We think he ought to be given that opportunity.
Nothing against previous office-holders — many have been good governors — but the Franklin businessman offers a fresh perspective on solving some of the state's vexing problems. He believes leadership, partnerships and conversations will help forge some of the answers.
Lee, 59, faces Democrat Karl Dean, 63, a former mayor of Nashville who is unlikely to advocate for far left solutions in a state whose economy is thriving but who nevertheless wants the state expand its Medicaid program with federal dollars, have fewer restrictions on abortions, potentially decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, enact "common-sense" restrictions on guns and not consider vouchers for students in struggling schools.
Lee describes himself as a fiscally conservative business person who wants to be responsible with the resources Tennessee has.
"I believe we should conserve where we can" and "invest well" where it is needed, he says.
A seventh-generation Tennessean, he is chairman and former president of the Lee Company, a comprehensive facilities solutions and home services business that has been chosen several times as the best large company to work for in the Nashville area. He also is a farmer on a fourth-generation family farm, has been a representative on the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and served on the board of trustees of Belmont University.
Lee, though, frequently cites his inspiration to run for governor on various experiences he has had in the wider world, including mentoring men in prison ministry, shepherding a student in a struggling school and taking mission trips to Africa, Central America and the Middle East.
In his campaign, he has emphasized good jobs, good schools and safe neighborhoods.
The state has made great strides under Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and has low unemployment, the top wage growth in the South, one of the highest rated pension systems in the country and a record rainy-day fund.
Lee wants to accentuate those attributes with specific strategies for rural Tennessee, a broader focus on technical and vocational education, and closing the skills gap for trade job openings. When he noticed such a skills gap for potential employees of his business, he opened a trade school that trains employees for such jobs. Partnering with private businesses and various organizations is one of the keys to filling those openings, he says.
He believes access to health care should be increased but feels taking federal dollars to expand Medicaid to some 200,000 Tennesseans is not the right answer because its rising costs are "unsustainable" and it has no incentives to lower the cost of care. Though he has no easy solution, he believes a system involving more coordinated care, a broader use of technology, and a plan that rewards outcomes and not volume is the way to go.
Dean, an attorney and former public defender who touts his experience in improving jobs, education and public safety during two terms as mayor of Tennessee's capital city, is in the unfortunate position of running as a Democrat in a state that has made significant progress in a wide number of areas under a Republican governor.
We believe Lee is best positioned both to continue that progress and to help craft solutions to some of the state's ongoing problems. We endorse his election.