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?