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Bill Lee visits Jonesborough amid early voting

Bill Lee shakes hands at the Corner Cup.


Staff Writer

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Another candidate for Tennessee governor stopped by Jonesborough Monday morning, speaking to residents at the Corner Cup.

Lee, a “third generation cattle farmer” spoke about the desire of Tennesseans to have “a good job, a good school for their kids, and a safe neighborhood. That’s what matters most to every Tennessean,” Lee said.

“And while we are a remarkable state … we do have some challenges. We have 15 counties in poverty in the state, as designated by the federal government. And every one of them is rural. I can’t rest until everybody at least has access to the opportunity for a good job.”

He also spoke about how the tragedy of losing his first wife changed his outlook on life. “This was the most tragic season of my life but clearly the most transformative. You sort through what matters and what doesn’t matter.”

Lee, who is chairman of Lee Company, believes that his status as an “outsider” will be beneficial to the state. “I’ve never run for office at all. People talk about being an outsider. I am truly an outsider.”

He added that as a businessman, “I run a company of 1200 skilled tradespeople. It’s critically important that we understand that this state can create an environment where employees can thrive. It won’t be the government changing jobs, the government doesn’t do that but we can do it if we have leadership from the outside that’s willing to break the status quo.”

During a question and answer session, Lee spoke about education and how he believes it “is the most important component of change. If you have a good education then you probably are going to get a good job.

“We have ignored vocational and agricultural education for decades in our school system. And it’s time for that to change … the most fundamental change I would make in education is to reinstate in a modern and relevant way, vocational, technical and agricultural education in our schools.”

Another focus of Lee on education was “to create an environment, especially for our teachers, to thrive. Teachers are where the rubber meets the road. We need to attract the best and brightest by having the right kind of teacher programs, and we need to create an environment for teachers to thrive. That includes reinstating some elements of our education that we’ve gotten rid of, civics education, character education. That makes it easier for our teachers to do what it is that they do.”

Lee was also asked about lowering the crime rate and he said that recidivism of prison inmates is a factor. Lee said that he became involved in a program that worked with inmates to reduce the likelihood of a return to prison.

“So ‘Men of Valor’ has a 15 percent recidivism rate, a return rate to prison, instead of 50 percent, which is what the Department of Corrections has … we need to look at an organization like that and say ‘Whatever they’re doing, that needs to be happening in the DOC’. And we need to have the political will to make certain that what they’re doing is happening in the DOC. That’s how we will reduce crime.”

He added that utilizing alternative sentencing, drug courts, mental health and veterans courts in the sentencing of non-violent offenders would help.

“To not put people in prison that don’t really need to be in prison but need to serve a term, that’s sentencing reform that’s smart.”