One of the most unconventional politicians in the 2018 election cycle won the gubernatorial race in Tennessee. Bill Lee spoke with Erick Erickson at the 2019 Resurgent Gathering about his unusual approach to the political realm.
When asked when he decided to become a politician, Lee said, “I didn’t decide to be a politician. I decided to run for governor.” A career in business and a stint in non-profit prison ministry paved the way for his run.
Lee also credits his first wife’s death in an accident in 2000 with focusing him on leading what he calls a “purposeful life.” After looking for more ways to impact lives for good, he and his second wife prayed about running for governor. They bought an RV, drove through 95 counties in 95 days, and even drove Lee’s tractor some 750 miles from the family farm to Memphis, and won.
The world of politics has its similarities to the realm of business according to Lee. The governorship isn’t much different from being owner or CEO of a company in his eyes. Lee relates that what was shocking about politics, aside from the schedule, was the heavy emphasis that political differences play in the decision-making process.
Lee has placed a particular emphasis on lifting up rural Tennessee, and he hopes that his state can be a beacon to other states in addressing rural issues.
“The whole country has this rural problem,” he said. “I want Tennessee to show how people can stay in rural communities and build a life there.” He also related that, “What happens in rural Tennessee matters to everyone in Tennessee.”
Another important issue to Lee is prison reform, which stems from his years serving in prison ministry. The issue is near and dear to his heart.
“Part of the honor of this job is that you carry things around in your heart for a long time,” said Lee, and he is proud “to be able to enact change that reduces recidivism and helps inmates transition back into the world.”
Lee is also proud of the economic track record that Tennessee has had of late. The state has been named the most fiscally sound state, and Lee says that it’s proof that economic conservatism works.
“When you allow individuals and businesses to spend their tax money their way, things get done,” Lee declared. “If you don’t have conservative fiscal policy, you won’t stay in business.”
What’s most important to Lee is his faith. He said he grew up in a Christian home, but his wife’s tragic death affected his faith heavily.
“Losing my wife was impactful in how I viewed my faith, my relationship with Jesus, eternity, the brevity of live, things that matter, and things that don’t matter,” said Lee.
He also mentioned that her death also helped him put life on the campaign trail in perspective.
“I know what a bad day is, and there isn’t going to be a day like that on the campaign trail,” he said.
Lee says he’s not afraid to talk in public about his faith and how it affects his life, but he’s also willing and proud to serve the people of Tennessee whether or not they agree with him.
“This world is full of people who have all kinds of beliefs, and I’ve always said that people should live the way they want to live,” said Lee. “I believe you can be principled, conservative, and convicted and still be the governor of every single Tennessean. I genuinely desire to serve them.”
When all is said and done, Lee is unafraid to campaign and lead his way.
“We may win and we may lose, but this is how I’m going to do it,” he said.
Lee embraces the twists and turns of his life so far, and he enjoys the journey.
“It’s a wild ride, and I’m proud to be on it.”