Businessman Bill Lee tours Tennessee for campaign

Luna Brewer • May 22, 2017 at 10:08 PM

After announcing his entrance to the Republican field in the running for Tennessee governor, Franklin businessman Bill Lee promised to visit all 95 Tennessee counties during the first 95 days of his campaign.

During the 25th day of his campaign tour, Lee visited Sullivan and Washington counties. The candidate began the tour to hear concerns and priorities of each of the counties to let voters know that together, they and Lee can make the state a better place to live, work and raise a family.

The cattle farmer, businessman and family man leads his campaign by letting people know he isn’t a politician, focusing on the fact that he is a native Tennessean with the people and state in mind.

“We have growing cities, a great small business climate and improving schools,” Lee said. “But we also face challenges shared by both our rural areas and inner cities — rising crime, persistent unemployment, increasing opioid abuse and families in turmoil. While we’ve made great strides across our state, we can’t leave these communities behind.”

During his visit at the Gray Fossil Site and Museum on Monday afternoon, Lee stressed his focus on education, public safety and jobs.

After his first wife died in a horseback-riding accident, Lee was left to care for his four children. The accident caused him to look at life differently, causing him to realize how short life is.

“There are few things that matter,” Lee said. “I feel compelled to be about those things. I believe God is a redeemer, and the tragedy gave me a perspective on my life that I didn’t previously have.”

After the accident, Lee also began looking at his business differently. Instead of focusing on profits, margins and growth, he turned to his 1,100 workers and their families. Lee also attributes the accident to leading him to nonprofit work, where he mentored an ex-offender and a inner-city man. Those mentorships led him to public forums and committees where his passion for public safety and education reform grew.

“Where I had spent the last 17 years thinking of how I could make my workers lives better, I began to imagine what it would be like if my job were to make life better for 6.5 million people,” Lee said.

However, Lee does not have any set policies or plan of action yet. For the past year, Lee and his current wife Maria have traveled across the state, and in April, Lee decided he was ready to run for governor. Now Lee said he plans on visiting each of the state’s counties to really listen to people’s concerns before finalizing any policies.

“Everywhere we go, after meeting people from rural counties to urban centers, people want a good job, they want a good education for their kids and they want a safe neighborhood,” Lee said. “Our focus is on those three things, and I believe my personal experiences in those three areas and the business world ... lines up with what most Tennesseans want.”

Despite believing that Tennessee is a remarkable state, Lee thinks that it can improve. Currently, Tennessee has 19 counties that have been federally designated as economically distressed. In terms of education, the state remains in the lower half of states.

“We are blessed with a legacy of a strong work ethic and conservative values, faith and compassion and those things, when applied to jobs, education and public safety, can bring about change,” Lee said.

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