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Bill Lee brings campaign to Elizabethton on Monday

John Thompson • Jun 4, 2018 at 9:10 PM

ELIZABETHTON — Many of Carter County's political leaders enjoyed a cup of coffee in downtown Elizabethton's Coffee Company on Monday morning while listening to Nashville businessman Bill Lee discuss his campaign for the Republican nomination for governor.

Lee discussed a variety of topics during his Carter County stop, including his interest in reforming the state's education system, privatization of prisons, fighting drug abuse, lowering business taxes and his deep religious faith. "My relationship with Christ is the most important thing in my life," Lee told the Carter Countians.

Lee discussed one of the biggest impacts of his life, the death of his first wife, Carol Ann, when she was thrown from her horse in 2000. Lee said he had been a businessman and a cattle farmer. He said he took on the role of also being a single parent, tucking in his children at night and getting them ready for school in the morning. He learned how short life can be and how every moment is important. His family is once again complete, with second wife, Maria, who he met when she was a teacher for some of his children.

His experiences as a widower him to an interest in community service, which included mentoring an inner-city boy and providing guidance for a state prisoner.

Lee is president of the Lee Company, a business founded by his grandfather. He said it now employs 1,200 skilled tradespeople, including welders, plumbers and electricians.

He said a businessperson has the experience to manage state government and manage the state budget.

His experience with his business and has also led him to see a need for changes in the state's education model. Lee said he sees the need to teach students trade skills. He said Tennessee remains in the bottom half of the states in education.

"We cannot accept the status quo," he said. He proposes to place more emphasis on vocational education, to teach students the skills that industry needs.

"People want a good job," Lee said. He said the state should work to create a workforce that is attractive to industry.

But Lee does not think the increased emphasis on increased education should mean the building of a Tennessee College of Applied Technology in every county. He said a more effective way is to form partnership with industry to do the training.

Lee sees the rejection of the status quo as being a key of Donald Trump's leadership. As a farmer, he sees the danger increasing tariffs leading to a trade war, but he said he sees Trump taking on the role of negotiator for the United States in rejecting the status quo and positioning the country to have a "balance of trade that will be beneficial."

Lee said he is against a state income tax, saying individuals know best how to spend their money. The candidate said he also favors lowering business taxes.

Lee said he is also in favor of the privatization of prisons if they can be run more efficiently. "If it can provide the same quality of service at a lower cost, then we ought to do it," Lee said.

He is also in favor of using prisons in the state's effort to combat drug addiction. He said the punishment of drug dealers should be so strict that it will make them go elsewhere.

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