by Judson Phillips
Bill Lee is now the Governor of Tennessee.
I did not support Bill Lee in the primary. That does not matter, as Lee beat Congressman Diane Black, Randy Boyd and then Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell. Lee also crushed Karl Dean in the General Election.
Conservatives were elated. Conservatives had mostly rallied around Bill Lee early in the campaign. Lee’s campaign focused much on his Christian faith and the tragedy surrounding the death of his first wife. His campaign was long on story and short on specifics. His “Ten for Tennessee” was a mostly aspirational platform, lacking almost totally in specifics.
For Tennessee conservatives, Bill Lee was a dream come true. Conservatives were tired and disheartened after eight years of a very liberal Bill Haslam administration. After watching a conservative agenda die for eight years and watching government grow at the same rate that Democrats would have grown government, conservatives were excited about Bill Lee. He was a handsome, charismatic candidate who was one of them.
For many conservatives, election night was the highwater mark. Lee drubbed Dean and that election was never in doubt. But then, things changed.
Soon after the election, “Ten for Tennessee,” disappeared from Bill Lee’s website. It wasn’t much but it was as close to a commitment to conservative principles Lee had uttered during the campaign.
Then Lee began to make his appointments.
There is a truism in politics. “Personnel is policy.” And Bill Lee’s policies had taken a decided left turn.
Bill Lee began to appoint lobbyists and people with ties to departing Governor Bill Haslam. There are a lot of appointments for a new governor and he made those appointments. But as movement conservatives began pointing out on social media, there were almost no conservatives in Haslam’s appointee list.
Among those appointed, were Christi Branscom, who was the deputy Mayor of Knoxville and who was very vocal in her support of LGBTQ issues and Penny Schwinn, a liberal failure as Education Commissioner.
Noticeably lacking are any name conservatives in any position of significance in the Lee Administration. Conservatives who came out early for Lee, are missing. Without their support, someone other than Bill Lee would be sitting behind the governor’s desk today.
Whining about the election results and fifty dollars will get you a small cup of coffee at Starbucks. Elections are about winning and about learning lessons.
In 1976, a year before I could vote, a man named Jimmy Carter swept out of nowhere to capture the Democrat nomination. He was openly an evangelical Christian and he pulled Christian independents away from Gerald Ford, the squishy moderate Republican President. Christians would learn their lesson and four years later, would overwhelmingly support Ronald Reagan.
For conservatives in Tennessee, there are some lessons to be learned. A candidate must say more than he is a Christian or he is a conservative. He or she needs to tell us what they will do as an elected leader and then we need to hold them to that.
But Tennessee conservatives need to remember something else. Tennessee is what is called a “weak executive” state. What that means in plain English is that while a governor can veto a bill, it takes only a majority vote by the General Assembly to override his veto. If there were initially enough votes to pass the bill, there are enough to override the veto.
The governor does set policy and has some executive powers. The real battle for conservatives is in the General Assembly. And that is where we should concentrate our attention.
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