Tennessee Gov.-elect Lee names 9 administration picks

Associated Press • Nov 27, 2018 at 4:42 PM

NASHVILLE  — Tennessee Gov.-elect Bill Lee has named three Cabinet members and six senior staffers for his new administration, including investment company chairman Stuart McWhorter as finance commissioner.

The list released Tuesday unveils the first wave of picks by Lee, the Franklin GOP businessman now tasked with appointing more than 20 people to lead agencies ranging from education, to agriculture, to health care, in addition to other key leadership roles.

McWhorter currently serves as chairman and president of Clayton Associates, which focuses on health care and technology investments. He is also chairman of Lee’s inauguration planning efforts and served as Lee’s campaign finance chairman.

McWhorter also serves on the board for Franklin-based Lee Company, Lee’s mechanical contracting, facilities and home services family business. Lee Company is one of several board positions with prominent companies that McWhorter holds.

There won’t be any change in two other Cabinet positions. Lee is retaining Department of Human Services commissioner Danielle Barnes and Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services commissioner Marie Williams. Both were term-limited appointees of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.

Lee is bringing along several of his campaign and transition team member for senior staff jobs in the governor’s office.

Campaign general consultant and transition team executive director Blake Harris, who is an attorney, will become chief of staff.

Transition team chairman Butch Eley will be chief operating officer. Before that, he was the DBI Services and founder of Infrastructure Corporation of America. He also served in former Nashville Mayor Bill Boner’s administration as director of economic and community development.

Lee’s deputy to the governor and chief counsel will be University of Tennessee board member Lang Wiseman, who was Lee’s campaign counsel. He founded Wiseman Bray PLLC in Memphis and specializes in business and commercial law.

Wiseman also currently serves on Haslam’s judicial appointments council.

Lee transition team spokeswoman Laine Arnold says Wiseman will be stepping down from the board position at the University of Tennessee, where he once made a name for himself as a Volunteers basketball player. Wiseman was sworn in as a trustee in August.

Tony Niknejad will be Lee’s policy director, which was his campaign role. Before that, he was the Tennessee state director for the American Federation for Children, helping advocate for school choice, including previous pushes to pass a school voucher program.

Lee has drawn questioning about where he stands on school vouchers, but hasn’t said clearly what he would or would not veto when it comes to funneling public money to private schools.

Niknejad, a former Tennessee Senate policy staffer, also worked with the Kentucky GOP to flip the state House during the 2016 statehouse elections, among other political roles he served.

Chris Walker will be Lee’s communications director and Arnold will be press secretary.

Both filled Lee campaign roles in communications, and Arnold is currently the transition team’s spokeswoman.

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