Lee and Dean Offer Differing Views in Memphis Gubernatorial Debate

Republican Bill Lee and Democrat Karl Dean offered differing views on the issues in a gubernatorial debate in Memphis on Tuesday.

Lee used the debate to make the case that he is the candidate who thinks outside the box when it comes to tackling the state’s crime and education woes. Dean offered answers many career politicians have given before.

Panelists asked the two men what role the state government has in reducing gun-related violence and crimes involving firearms.

Lee, the Williamson County businessman and GOP nominee, spoke of how he has worked in a nonprofit re-entry program for prisoners for 15 years and mentored a man released from prison. Lee said he’s also worked with other incarcerated men.

“We have to develop a system that is tough on crime and smart on crime at the same time,” Lee said.

“That means we need to address those most egregious criminals in a profoundly serious way and yet at the same time look hard at the way we intake and re-enter folks if we really want to reduce the crime rate.”

When it was his turn to talk about how best to fight crime, Dean shared his views on the Second Amendment.

“This is a state that is strongly supportive of the Second Amendment. It is strongly supportive of people’s right to have a firearm. But I think there are limits on it,” Dean said.

“What I think is a good place is to begin a discussion about how we respond to gun violence, particularly mass shootings, and to say ‘Shouldn’t we work to keep firearms out of the hands of dangerous people?’”

Panelists later asked about education.

Lee spoke of Shelby County Schools’ Innovation Zone. According to its website, the Innovation Zone was created to help the school system move from the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state to the top 25 percent.

As the name of the program suggests, it encourages innovative strategies in education.

Lee praised the Innovation Zone for changing the model of compensation and giving more autonomy to the way a school system operates.

“There has been profound improvement by addressing changes in the model,” Lee said.

“When I’m governor, I want to go to every struggling school district and ask ‘What is your idea of your Innovation Zone to transform your education system?’”

For his part, Dean said it is largely a question of a teachers’ resources.

“If you look around the state there are areas that have real inequalities they are dealing with in terms of education. They don’t have the tax base or the property tax base to do what they need to do to improve their schools. There are issues of urban poverty,” Dean said.

“Look at how we fund schools. Look at more services and how kids need it. How do we pay our teachers more?”

Later on, Dean said he “strongly disagreed” with Lee on his support and advocacy for school vouchers.

“I think vouchers actually take money out of the public school system and move it into a private system and there’s no guarantee on the quality of those schools,” Dean said.

“The states that have done that have had real problems.”

When asked about standardized testing, Lee said TN Ready has not worked and needs a change of vendor.

As The Tennessee Star reported in August, current Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, acknowledged the testing program has received much criticism. Haslam said at the time that much of the criticism was earned, specifically problems with what he called implantation and delivery.

Lee, meanwhile, said he wants “a robust conversation” on how the state can get achieve better test results.

“My overall view of testing is the way I view measurement in business. We know that you can’t improve what you don’t measure, but we also know if you measure too much or measure the wrong thing then you have the opposite impact of what you want,” Lee said.

“Seventy percent of our teachers in the state say the testing environment is not conducive to them. We do need to do a reset on testing, not just a vendor but look at how it is that we approach the entire measurement system in our state. One of the ways I want to do that is by having a greater engagement with teachers and with parents.”

Dean, meanwhile, said the tests don’t have credibility and the teachers don’t trust them.

In a press release that came out after the debate, Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Scott Golden said Lee is the right man to lead the state.

“Bill’s experience as a father, farmer, businessman and political outsider show stark differences between him and a career politician,” Golden said.

“Bill demonstrated a strong grasp on the critical issues in Memphis and West Tennessee and is ready to take on role of addressing the challenges facing Tennessee.”

Tuesday’s event was sponsored by The Commercial Appeal and the USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee, WMC Action News 5, the University of Memphis, the League of Women Voters and the Economic Club of Memphis.

Watch the full debate:



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[Editor’s Note: The first published version of this article cited quotes from earlier debates. The story has been corrected and does not include those earlier quotes.]

Chris Butler is an investigative journalist at The Tennessee Star. Follow Chris on Facebook. Email tips to [email protected]







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