While Election Day remains a few days off that hasn’t tamped down speculation about who front-runner candidate for Governor and “conservative outsider” Bill Lee may tap to serve in key positions in his Cabinet should he win, as expected, on Tuesday. While Team Lee dismisses any talk that they are prematurely “measuring the drapes” that hasn’t slowed the gossip mill about who might be a part of his team once the election is over. (At The Tennessee Star we don’t pass along every rumor in stories labeled “OFF THE RECORD,” just the ones we can substantiate).
Rep. Shelia Butt from Columbia, like Sen. Janice Bowling, was one of Lee’s earliest legislative supporters. Bowling is considered a strong possibility to fill a key position in the Lee Administration.
The same is true of Butt, who is apparently under consideration for selection as Commissioner of Agriculture. Butt announced late last year that she was not planning to seek reelection, but few believe her time in public service is over. Early selection of a few staunch conservatives like Bowling and Butt could help Lee overcome the impression that his Administration will simply continue the moderate path that Governor Bill Haslam charted the past eight years.
Businessman Lee has a background in hiring people. He understands you have to hire the best people to be successful. The saying is true: personnel is policy. Unfortunately, most people concerned about public policy have limited knowledge how the process works. That is why bureaucracy thrives and good policy dies.
It has been estimated that when Republican Governor Haslam assumed office from Democrat Phil Bredesen he chose to retain over 80% of Bredesen’s political appointees. That was unacceptable to many Republicans and it definitely hampered his relationship with conservatives in the Legislature the entire time he has been in office. (Subsequently funding primary campaigns against those same conservatives didn’t help).
Hiring Democrat Kevin Huffman as Education Commissioner, who admitted he had voted for Barack Obama for President, didn’t exactly establish a positive foundation for Haslam’s interactions with Republican legislators either.
Assuming Lee wins on Tuesday, we will find out soon whether he has learned from Haslam’s mistakes or whether he will simply be a rerun, Haslam 2.0 as it were, when he puts his Administration together. Is it a legitimate concern? Mark Cate, Haslam’s former Chief of Staff who helped direct the campaigns against conservative Republican legislators, is reportedly claiming that he and his Nashville-based Stones River Group are “putting Lee’s Cabinet together.”
Assuming Cate isn’t talking about furniture, conservatives would be wise to watch what happens next – and who does what – very carefully. And, if Lee wasn’t already aware that Cate is “assembling” his Administration…he is now. So are conservative Republican legislators who were in Cate’s target sights.