OFF THE RECORD: Will Governor Bill Lee Hire Any Conservative Republicans For His Administration?

When the Bill Lee Transition team was announced with Democrat Butch Eley chairing the effort, many conservative Republicans who worked hard to elect Governor Lee raised their eyebrows; particularly in view of his substantial donation to Democrat Senate candidate Phil Bredesen earlier this year, who was defeated handily by Marsha Blackburn on November 6. Now Eley has been named as Lee’s Chief Operating Officer.

The fact that Democrat businessman Stuart McWhorter was also named as a key leader in the transition effort (and has now been tapped as Lee’s Commissioner of Finance and Administration) is also sparking concerns.  McWhorter has given campaign donations recently to Republicans, including perpetual Trump critic Bob Corker, but has consistently donated to Democrats in the past.  He has certainly not been an active proponent of conservative candidates in Tennessee.

Two of Haslam’s Commissioners, Mental Health and Human Services, will be retained. Danielle Barnes, who will continue as Commissioner of Human Services joined the department under Democrat Governor Phil Bredesen in 2004. Marie Williams, who is current Commissioner of Mental Health, was elevated to Deputy Commissioner in the Department by Democrat Governor Phil Bredesen in 2011. Other Haslam Commissioners are also expected to keep their jobs — underlining concerns that Lee’s Administration will simply be Haslam 2.0.

Blake Harris, an Alabama-based political consultant who served as General Consultant for the campaign, has been selected as Lee’s Chief of Staff. Harris’ political consulting clientele has primarily been from the moderate wing of the Republican spectrum, including Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, a consistent Trump critic who thinks about leaving the Republican Party “every morning when he wakes up.”

Memphis lawyer Lang Wiseman, a moderate in the Haslam sphere of influence who was a strong advocate of expanding Obamacare, will serve as Deputy Governor and as Lee’s legal counsel. Two campaign staffers, Tony Niknejad (policy director) and Chris Walker (communications director), will continue in those same roles in the new Administration.

Conservative Republicans, including several who were actively engaged on Lee’s behalf early in his campaign, are complaining that conservatives are not getting past the moderate Republicans and Democrats who are controlling the Lee transition process. Based on the appointments thus far, their complaints are justified. So far, the Lee senior lineup is all white males, no females and no dependable, consistent conservatives. Actually, at this point there are more Democrats than conservatives in the Lee inner circle.

All of which raises the question: should conservative Republicans even bother applying for senior leadership positions with the Lee Administration?









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10 Thoughts to “OFF THE RECORD: Will Governor Bill Lee Hire Any Conservative Republicans For His Administration?”

  1. […] commerce and insurance, tourism, safety and homeland security, banking.  You can go to and read kind of our analysis of the people he’s putting in […]

  2. […] The latest Cabinet and senior staff announcements haven’t changed that. Nor has he provided his conservative base any assurance that there is ANY room in his Administration for those with whom he claimed to be in […]

  3. Stuart I. Anderson

    No reason for anyone to remember but in the weeks preceding the Republican primary last August I opined that as conservatives our first job was to elect ANYBODY BUT BOYD. Among the remaining three candidates who I dubbed the “Trifecta of Mediocrity” I felt that Diane Black was the best choice because she had the most proven conservative record, while Bill Lee was the worst choice because he had NO RECORD and Governor was too important a job for conservatives to support a No Record Candidate. My conservative friends who didn’t like Diane assured me that though Lee is sort of an empty suit, he will surround himself with conservatives so conservatives will be in control.

    It appears from these preliminary indications that my concerns about Lee were well placed.
    I don’t want to be an “I told you so” (though I obviously find it hard to resist) but if the conservatives who were mesmerized by Lee’s “sweet nothingness” of a campaign will only learn something for future elections even enduring an empty suit centrist Republican Governor will be worth it. As you watch the “Leelam,” or is it “HasLee,” administration for the next eight years, please remember for future election not to support No Record Candidates when even a proven tepid conservative candidate is on the ballot even if you’re feelin’ lucky.

  4. I can understand retaining people who are doing good work. I want to see him, for sure, put a very conservative Constitution-lover in charge of DCS.

  5. Benny Jones

    I will assure you that Bill will do his homework and properly vet each and every appointment within his administration. We the voters soundly elected him to lead our State, which includes any and all appointments as he sees fit. It now becomes our duty as the citizens of our Great State to help and assist the administration in performing what we elected him to do, Be Our Leader.

  6. Joe Flowers

    This is so stupid. Hey, Tennessee Star, you do know that you all advocate for RINOs, right? Everyone from Blake Harris to Lang Wiseman are actual conservative republicans, but you all want to install RINOs like Sheila Butt, Joe Carr, etc that worship at the altar of wing-nutism.

    Go take a hike and let the conservatives run the show. There shouldn’t be any room for RINOs like Butt, Holt, Carr, etc. in the party.

    1. Stuart I Anderson

      Actually, what is “stupid” is arbitrarily changing labels so individuals with little adherence to the Republican platform as adopted by the last quadrennial Republican convention become “conservatives” and those who do adhere to the platform become “RINO”s. I am sure low information voters who find Bill Lee a deep political thinker were plum snookered by Joe’s fancy footwork, but for the rest of us, it just contributes to making rational political discourse a little more difficult.

      No fancy footwork necessary Joe. You apparently are a political centrist who has found a home in the Republican Party so you are enthusiastic about Bill Lee and the Republican Party existing primarily as the political arm of the U. S. Chamber of Commerce and Business Round Table. Sounds absolutely dreadful to me, but you are what you are.

    2. Jennifer Kay Winfree

      Add Mae Beavers to this mix as well

      1. Joe Flowers


        The GOP of Reagan is quickly disappearing and being replaced by a party of no ideology other than anti-conservatism and loud-mouthed populism. Mae Beavers, Sheila Butt, Joe Carr, and others are leading the fight to make the GOP a party of know-nothings and conservative bashers.

        If that’s what people like Stuart Anderson want to believe in, that’s ok, but don’t pretend that it’s Republican or conservative. It’s not. Bill Lee is doing a good job and installing good people. Let him do his job and go back to the Democrat party, Stuart.

        1. Carla McCombs

          Mae Beavers is far from a Conservative basher. She’s a string Conservative. What the heck?