The second in a series of three debates between the four candidates for the Republican nomination for governor broadcast across the state produced few fireworks on Wednesday night. However, it may have helped Bill Lee introduce himself and gain traction as voters begin to increase their focus on a race that thus far has appeared to be between the more heavily funded candidates, Diane Black and Randy Boyd.
The one hour debate was broadcast live on stations in Memphis, Jackson, Nashville, Knoxville, Huntsville (Alabama), Chattanooga and Tri-Cities, with questions posed by Nashville’s WKRN News 2 anchor Bob Mueller, and Memphis anchors Katina Rankin and Richard Ransom of WATN Local 24.
The debate opened with a question regarding illegal immigration and President Donald Trump’s Executive Order, signed just hours before the debate.
Do your support President Trump’s Zero Tolerance Policy?
Bill Lee: “It is sad and heartbreaking to see children taken away from their parents, and I’m glad that has been changed. But we have an immigration policy that is broken because of the failure of Congress for decades to deal with this challenge.” Lee pointed out that Tennessee can make the bad situation worse by offering incentives for illegal immigrants to come into the state, such as providing drivers licenses (which we did but don’t do anymore), allowing sanctuary cities, and providing in-state tuition for illegals, all of which exacerbate the problem.
Beth Harwell: “I will support President Trump. It is heart wrenching, but we separate families when someone commits a crime in Tennessee.” Harwell added that we do not allow sanctuary cities in Tennessee and have not permitted in-state tuition for illegals as we have done all we can to isolate Tennessee from this problem. “Again, it is a failure of Congress to take action.”
Randy Boyd: “I’ve watched the same images as everyone else and it is heart breaking. But these families knew this was going to happen when they came across the border. I think the President’s policy is the right policy. I am pleased he has issued an Executive Order to keep families together.”
Diane Black: “As a mother and grandmother I can’t imagine children being separated form their parents. But those parents came her willingly; and I also can’t imagine as a mother and grandmother putting children in this situation. That being said, I think the President has made the right decision in detaining and deporting the families together.” Black also pointed out that it is the Democrats who are keeping the Wall from being funded and our border secured.
Each candidate indicated that they support Governor Bill Haslam’s commitment to use Tennessee National Guard personnel to secure the border and support the President’s efforts.
What letter grade would you give Governor Haslam for handling crime in Tennessee?
Each of the four candidates gave the Governor a “B”.
Harwell mentioned that the legislature followed the Governor’s lead to provide $30 million for School Resource Officers and that Homeland Security has reviewed the security situation at each school in the state to evaluate vulnerabilities.
Boyd also underlined the need for SROs in every school and to secure the schools as we have done our airports; he also emphasized the need to focus on mental health and provide Mental Health Officers in schools in addition to SROs.
Black gave the Governor credit for gathering a panel of experts to determine what needs to be done. She also noted the need to focus on mental health as the root cause of the problems.
Lee noted that if we want to deal effectively with crime we have to be tough on crime when appropriate and smart on crime when appropriate. Recidivism is the key, and we must focus on that since those we send to prison will leave prison at some point and come back into our communities.
Large numbers of guns are being stolen from cars in Tennessee that are then used in crimes. Should we repeal the law that allows people to keep guns in their cars?
Boyd opposed repeal and pointed out that people seeking guns will find them, regardless of whether we have the guns in trunks law. Black also said repeal is not the answer and said it is the problem of families breaking down and a culture that is creating violence, not the access to guns.
Lee said that targeting law abiding citizens because of the actions of criminals is not appropriate. “When we take rights from law abiding citizens because of the unlawful actions of a few we are going in the wrong direction.”
Harwell pointed out that she supported the legislation in the General Assembly. The law specifically required that the car be locked and that the intent of the law is not being followed if people don’t lock their guns in their cars.
Do you support making sports betting legal in Tennessee?
Black noted that she opposed the lottery and feels the same about the legalization of spots betting. Lee said it is a matter of principle, that the Tennessee Constitution doesn’t allow it and that we shouldn’t find a loophole to legalize something that is not allowed. Expanding a gambling culture would also be a bad decision according to Lee.
Harwell indicated that she would choose to abide by what the Legislature decides to do on this issue if she is Governor. Boyd pointed out that he likes the family atmosphere of his own professional baseball team and wouldn’t want to see legalized sports betting in Tennessee. He added that, like Lee, it is a matter of adhering to what the Constitution says not what we might want to twist it to mean.
What’s your view on NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem?
Lee: “I view it as absolute disrespect to the Flag. Absolute disrespect to the Anthem. Absolute disrespect to every veteran who gave their life for this country.”
Harwell: “I view it as disrespectful. And out of respect to those who have given their lives for our country they should stand.”
Boyd: “As a former Scoutmaster of 17 years I spent a lot of time teaching young Scouts how to treat the Flag with respect. I think about how young people see these athletes and sports idols disrespecting our Flag and find it completely inappropriate. I wouldn’t stand for it as Governor.”
Black: “I come from a family of military and that Flag and Anthem brings tears to my eyes every time. We gave up our Titans tickets and don’t watch the NFL anymore because of these actions; we now go fishing as a family and until the NFL changes their policy I will not watch them.”
Do you support the President or Tennessee’s elected officials who have indicated their opposition to him on the issue of imposing tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum?
Boyd: “The tariffs are bad for the state of Tennessee, and as Governor I will focus on the impact on Tennessee.”
Black: “The President is a tough negotiator and is focused on Making America Great Again and putting America First. Let’s give him some room to negotiate.”
Lee: “The President is making decisions to bring America back to the forefront of trade but I am deeply concerned about the impact of those tariffs on Tennessee jobs and farmers.”
Harwell: “I have grave concerns, but I am not going to second guess the President.”
Do you support or oppose legalizing medical marijuana?
Black: “We should follow the science and right now the science doesn’t show effectiveness and safety.”
Lee: “I oppose medical marijuana, because there are other solutions. We need to explore and expand the use of low THC CBD oils and other products before we move forward with higher THC medical marijuana.”
Harwell: “I oppose recreational use, but support medical marijuana particularly since Tennessee is a “right to try” state.”
Boyd: “I oppose medical marijuana unless it is approved by the FDA. We need to determine the dosage, means and methods of safely dispensing this and we need more science behind it before we get there.”
The primary election date is August 2, six weeks from today.
The winner of the Republican primary will face the winner of the Democratic primary between former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and State Rep. Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley) in November’s general election.