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Believing Tennessee Can Lead Nation

Editor’s note: We asked Tennessee’s gubernatorial candidates Democrat Karl Dean and Republican Bill Lee to write guest columns about their visions going to November.

Traveling across our state campaigning for governor, Tennesseans have confirmed something for me that I instinctively knew when I decided to run last year: Tennessee is truly a remarkable place. We are fortunate to call this state home, and with each new person I meet and each story I hear, it becomes even more clear to me.

I believe that part of what has made our state so great it that our leaders have worked for policies that lead to growth and advancement.

Whether it was Gov. Bill Haslam’s steady leadership over the past eight years, or the strong work of our legislature advancing conservative policies, we have been fortunate to have so many talented people who know an important governing philosophy: conservatism works. Our taxes continue to be some of the lowest in the nation, our cities are booming and our education system has made great strides in recent years. Tennessee is a really good place to live.

However, in business, we know that good is the enemy of great. No matter how well we’ve done as a state, Tennessee will not reach her full potential unless we are willing to keep innovating and growing.

All the Tennesseans I’ve met during this campaign want the same things for them and their families: They want a good job, a good school for their kids and to live in a safe neighborhood.

For Tennessee to become even better, we must recognize that while many of us have good jobs, we still have 15 counties in poverty. There are pockets of good schools across the state, but we’re still in the bottom half of the union in education. And while many Tennesseans have safe neighborhoods, our violent crime rate is on a steady increase in our six largest cities.

In my victory speech on Aug. 2, I pledged to visit all 95 counties in this state heading into Election Day in November.

This past week, I formally announced my “Believe in Tennessee Tour.”

I called it that because our next governor must believe we can lead the nation, and I believe we can, but it will it requires us to challenge what has been done before and to always look for new ways to lead and to grow.

In the primary, I rejected negative advertising, and said I wouldn’t go down that road. I’m not about to start now. I believe we can have a good conversation in this campaign, without tearing down others. It’s not what leaders do.

Instead, I plan to focus on the major issues facing our state.

On education, we must transform our high schools. I run a company with 1,200 employees and we created “Lee Company University” because my company, like many in our state, can’t find enough people qualified to fill the jobs we have.

We need to ensure that for the four out of ten kids who don’t go to college, they are ready to enter the workforce.

I care deeply about the rural communities of our state, and that is why I was the first candidate in this race to release a detailed plan specifically tailored for that area - the Roadmap for Rural Tennessee.

In fact, I wrote on these pages about that plan earlier in this campaign. Rural Tennesseans face a higher rate of opioid addiction, and we must invest in a treatment- first approach that recognizes that what’s often at the root of addiction is trauma.

We need to reform our criminal justice system, working to make sure those who are incarcerated are ready to re-enter society, rather than re-enter prison.

These solutions are only the beginning, and they are part of the larger project I have planned to make Tennessee what we know it can be: not just a leader in the Southeast, but a leader for the whole nation.

Bill Lee is the chairman of Lee Company, and the Republican nominee for governor.

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