A final push before election day

Two GOP contenders for governor visit county during early voting drive Monday

  • Bill Lee (right) and Zach Wamp

  • Clinton Mayor Scott Burton, Rocky Top City Manager Michael Foster, Randy Boyd

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee has a new ally — former Congressman Zach Wamp and the pair made several stops in Anderson County on Monday as they swung through Wamp’s former House district.

“A week ago I jumped in and formally endorsed Bill Lee for governor. For a year I’ve been telling everybody I was voting for Bill Lee. I thought he was the best person running, the best candidate, and would make the best governor. I didn’t think I was going to take a public position,” Wamp said.

“I watched the campaign evolve. Frankly, I know all of the candidates and for the most part, they’re all good people. Their campaigns, to me, are not operated in a way that is becoming of a governor of this state. This is a state of goodness and integrity. This is a state that expects more than trash gutter politics,” he said of his decision to endorse Lee.

Wamp said Randy Boyd and Diane Black ran against each other for much of the campaign and did so in a way that reflects poorly on the Republican Party.

“It drives people away from politics instead of to public service,” he said.

“I’m not going to go down that path. That’s not what a leader does. I think you can glean a lot more about the person behind a negative ad than the person the ad is directed at because the person behind the ad is willing to deceive. We don’t need a leader that will say or do anything to get elected,” Lee said.

“My faith, my relationship to Christ is the most important thing in my life. My foundation is do unto other people what you want done unto you. I’m not going to change who I am in order to get elected,” he said.

Wamp noted that a Nashville poll released Monday showed Lee with a six-point lead in the race for the GOP nomination.

“Now they’re [Boyd and Black] running at him and that’s not good. They’re good people but they’ve let bad people take their campaigns over and that’s a sign of poor leadership,” he argued.

Lee said his message has been positive from day one.

He said when he decided to run, he wanted to mount an aggressive grassroots campaign. He and his wife Maria went to 95 counties in 95 days.

“We’re finishing our campaign by doing 100 town halls. That’s what brought us to this part of the state. I really believe the reason we’re gaining such momentum in our campaign is that we are focused on talking about what I want to do as governor and what can elevate this state,” Lee said.

One of the issues he favors most is improving vocational education throughout the state at the high school level, even starting students in the seventh and eighth grade talking about the legitimacy of career paths other than college.

“We’ve ignored vocational technical education in our public school system. I run a company called Lee Company and we’re in the heating-air conditioning, plumbing, and electrical business. We employee 1,200 mostly skilled trades people — plumbers, pipefitters, welders, and electricians. We were chosen as the best company to work for in Nashville for the third time and yet we can’t fill job openings because there’s just not a skilled workforce out there,” Lee said.

He said the problem was so bad for them as a company they started a trade school — Lee Company University — 10 years ago.

“We have put 1,000 people through that program. I know how to do vocational training. We just need to do that in high schools across the state. We have four out of 10 kids in our state that don’t go to college. They’re gifted and talented in ways college kids are not but unless we give them a pathway to success in our educational system, they won’t have hope,” Lee said.

“Education is not about a test score. It’s about preparing a child for success in life. That’s what our focus in education should be,” he added.

Another issue Lee supports is improving agri-business in Tennessee.

He said he was raised on a cattle farm and his family is still involved in the Hereford cattle business.

“In the same way we’ve ignored vocational technical education, we’ve ignored agricultural education. Agriculture is 13 percent of the economy of our state.

“It’s critically important to the future of this state. Ag is an emerging industry. It is not farming like your grandfather did. It’s an emerging food industry, an emerging ag-tech industry. Some states are going to lead in that and I believe Tennessee can be a leader but it’s going to require a governor that understands the ag industry and recognizes its importance,” Lee said.

He also said he wants to focus on getting people good jobs and safe neighborhoods. Lee said his status as a conservative political outsider appeals to the average Tennessean in much the same way Donald Trump appealed to them in 2016.

“Someone coming in from the outside, from business, not politics, and bringing a fresh approach — he’s [Trump] has been the most effective president in modern history.

“He is a true outsider and I believe that Tennesseans believe that now is the time for outside leadership and I bring that to the table.”