2 men, one choice to be Tennessee's next governor

Zach Vance • Nov 4, 2018 at 12:12 AM

Months and months of town halls, debates, press releases and polls have led to Nov. 6, 2018, the date Tennesseans will choose either Republican Bill Lee or Democrat Karl Dean to be their 50th governor.

Considering the winner will replace term-limited Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, this race in particular will be consequential for Tennessee’s future during the next four years.

Since 1967, neither party has consecutively held the office of governor in Tennessee for more than two terms. While this historical trend bodes well for Dean, every major poll conducted in the state has shown Lee with considerable leads, including an East Tennessee State University poll released Friday with Lee up by 12 percentage points.

Lee and Dean are both amiable men, who’ve operated positive campaigns that have largely steered clear of divisive rhetoric. In Lee’s latest television ad, he even calls his opponent “a good man,” while Dean wished his opponent a happy birthday during the second debate in Kingsport.

However, Lee and Dean have vastly different backgrounds and views on governing.

A native of Williamson County, Lee has served as president and CEO of Lee Company — a heating, cooling, electrical and plumbing business — since 1992. Throughout the election, Lee has touted his executive leadership as suitable experience to fill the governor’s mansion while also campaigning heavily on his lack of a political background.

A transplant from Massachusetts, Dean served as mayor of Nashville from 2007 to 2015, guiding the city through the Great Recession and a devastating flood in 2010. Dean has pitched himself to voters as sensible and business-friendly, while his principal issue throughout the campaign has been his support for Medicaid expansion.

Here is a quick rundown of where Lee and Dean stand on some of the issues facing Tennesseans:


Lee, who’s called himself 100 percent pro-life, has said he would support any restriction that limits abortions. He specifically told the Tennessean he would support the heartbeat bill, sponsored by Jonesborough Rep. Micah Van Huss, and make sure Planned Parenthood is defunded.

Dean has said he believes medical decisions, like abortions, should be made between a mother and medical professional, without politicians inserting themselves into the conversation, according to Nashville Public Radio.

Medicaid Expansion

Dean has campaigned extensively on his support for expanding Medicaid in Tennessee, saying the state loses $2.5 million a day in federal funding by not doing so. He also said expansion would save rural hospitals, improve public health and create jobs.

On the other hand, Lee has said there is no point pouring more money into a “broken system,” but he’s been somewhat vague in proposing an alternative. During one of the debates, Lee said insurance costs could be lowered by more effectively coordinating care among providers and removing barriers to telemedicine.

Criminal Justice Reform

Lee has often cited his involvement in prison ministries, such as Men of Valor. By partnering with nonprofits, Lee hopes to offer more mentorship programs to incarcerated individuals to try and lower recidivism rates.

As a public defender for more than a decade, Dean has proposed forming a committee of criminal justice stakeholders to analyze the system and offer suggestions for improvement.

Medical Marijuana 

While he said he would not favor legalization of marijuana for recreational use, Dean said he would look at decriminalizing it during the last governor’s debate in Nashville.

Lee said he would not support legalization, but said the state can be “tough on crime and smart on crime at the same time.” He also told the Tennessean that more time needed to be spent on exploring and ensuring quality access to non-psychoactive CBD.

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