NASHVILLE — A Republican candidate for Tennessee governor claimed Tuesday the "liberal media," teachers unions and the "far-left lobby" have used students who survived Parkland, Florida's deadly school shooting as "props to push their anti-gun agenda."
Candidate Bill Lee sent out the comments in a news release after a governor's race forum Tuesday in which the contenders were asked whether the Parkland survivors have had a positive or negative impact on the conversation around guns and gun control. The students have advocated for more gun restrictions.
Lee answered, "negative." Fellow Republicans Randy Boyd and Beth Harwell and Democrats Karl Dean and Craig Fitzhugh said "positive." Republican Diane Black did not attend.
"This is common sense: law abiding citizens should not be punished for the actions of criminals," Lee, a construction company owner in Franklin, said in his statement. "These kids have been through a horrible tragedy. But I've been sickened by how the liberal media, the teacher's unions and the far left lobby have used these kids as props to push their anti-gun agenda."
The forum drew a couple other contrasts.
Fitzhugh criticized Dean for how disaster relief money was spent in Nashville after floods in 2010, while Dean was mayor. Fitzhugh cited a recent media report that said Nashville withdrew $7.4 million in federal flood funding and used it to build a downtown amphitheater, though Dean said the money was used for flood mitigation.
A 2013 amendment to Nashville-Davidson County's recovery plan called for "a civic open space that includes a promenade that serves as a flood wall, event space, lawns and plazas, piers, a greenway, and related improvements."
"You see, that's where we lose the public trust," said Fitzhugh, the state House minority leader from Ripley. "That won't work because there were 52 other counties that had a right to maybe have some of that money that didn't get the opportunity."
Dean replied that the city's response to that flood is one of the best stories about Nashville.
"We went through a natural disaster after a great recession, and this city came together in a way that perhaps [Fitzhugh] can't understand, but we got back up on our feet faster than any place imaginable," Dean said.
Harwell drew attention when she said she would never offer an economic development incentive package for a company to locate in Middle Tennessee, where Nashville is located. Harwell, who is from Nashville, said those packages need to be offered to companies that are willing to go to rural areas.
Boyd, the former state economic development chief from Knoxville, said after the event he completely disagreed.
"A company that's looking to open a 1,000-person office in downtown Nashville isn't choosing between downtown Nashville and Ripley," Boyd told The Tennessean. "They're choosing between Nashville and Atlanta."