“The enemy of great is good. When you settle for being good, then you’ll never be great. It lulls you into mediocrity,” Lee, a Williamson County businessman and cattle farmer, told a roomful of business leaders and elected officials.
Lee faces Democrat nominee Karl Dean, Nashville’s former mayor, in the November general election.
Lee noted there are great things about state government — its low debt load and the leadership of Gov. Bill Haslam — but there are things that need fixing, like the fact that Tennessee has 15 counties in poverty.
“I have a deep belief we have not put the focus on vocational and technical education in public schools, and we don’t have the skilled workforce needed,” Lee said. “I have a real deep belief that high school should look different. … We need pathways to success for the four out of 10 kids who don’t go to college.
“The next governor is walking into a really great setup, but the danger lies in ‘That’s really good and we ought to hang onto that.’ I really think we can lead the country. I think America wants the states to lead, and there are a few that have the right demographics, right fiscal foundation, right focus, right culture. … The primary focus in my business is to create a culture where people can thrive. … This state has a culture that is set up to lead the nation. I believe we can.”
Jason Mumpower, chief of staff at the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office and former state representative, introduced Lee as the “nicest statewide candidate” Tennessee has ever had.
“When you think about the state of politics today, isn’t it about time the nice guy wins?” Mumpower asked.
Lee addressed these questions at the roundtable:
How do we lift up rural Tennessee and develop more broadband?
“We rolled out a policy statement called the ‘Roadmap For Rural Tennessee.’ … I do think we are at risk of losing a way of life in rural Tennessee. We’re at risk of becoming two societies. … There were four things in that (policy statement). … One was innovation technology through broadband. … I think rural Tennessee struggles with healthcare access. It struggles with educational outcomes.”
Are you committed to truth in sentencing?
“There are unique places where truth in sentencing is important. … I’m deeply committed to reentry programs that allow ex-offenders to reenter society in an easier way once they have served their terms. I also believe that victims’ rights and understanding the victim side of incarceration all things public safety … is critically important. I served on the governor’s task force for sentencing reform. … When a person comes out of incarceration, we want them to succeed. I’m committed to pursuing truth in sentencing.”
How do we ramp up vocational and technical education?
“I’m a real believer in we do not have to invent things. We can go find out what other people are doing well and bring that back. There’s a high school in Dyer County that has an agricultural program that is remarkable. There’s a high school in Sevierville that has a cosmetology program where kids are ready to come out working with a cosmetology degree. … I do think the private sector has a role to play.”
What’s the next step in addressing the opioid crisis?
“I usually characterize that problem as a systemic problem. In the first place, there are too many pills, too many prescriptions, pain clinics. … We have a medical community of the highest integrity. There are bad actors in every community. We just have to find out what component of that system is creating one of the most overprescribed states in America. There’s just a disconnect there that shouldn’t exist. … It started being addressed in the legislature and we’ve got to keep moving there. … For me, it’s how do we create penalties that make drug traffickers not want to be here? … And then how do we strengthen law enforcement? … The bigger, more complex challenge is the mental health and rehabilitative component to this. … Government can never solve the problem. … Our nonprofit communities and private sector have got to be engaged in these solutions.”