Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee is applauded by his wife, Maria Lee, after he delivered his inaugural address in War Memorial Auditorium Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

By Cillea Houghton 

NASHVILLE, TN  — Community members have expressed support for Bill Lee following his inauguration as Tennessee’s 50th governor. In his speech, Lee addressed the platforms of education, prison reform and the needs of rural communities. Lee stated that while Tennessee has the highest improvement rate in educational outcomes, it’s still in the bottom half nationwide, and even with “record low” unemployment and tax rates, Tennessee is home to some of the poorest towns in the country. 

“When we consider our state, we see how fortunate we are, and yet we also see how much we have to do,” he said. “I believe that Tennesseans have much more that unites us than

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, right, is sworn in by Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Jeffrey Bivins, left, in War Memorial Auditorium Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

divides us and I believe that one way that we do unite is by following the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself…Our greatness has never come from government compulsion or power, it’s always come from our love for each other and our commitment to our fellow citizens and to our neighbors.”

State Rep. Brenda Gilmore said she supports Lee’s major initiatives, particularly criminal justice reform. Lee reports that 95 percent of people released from jail will recommit a crime and go back to prison within three years. He has mentored inmates through prison ministry Men of Valor and recommended working with nonprofits to help nonviolent offenders reacclimate to society. Gilmore plans to work with Lee to institute “meaningful legislation” to help restore former prisoners’ rights. “I’m taking it at his word that he’s going to represent all of us regardless if we’re black or white, whatever religion we are and whatever age we are. I’m appreciative of that,” she said. “He’s representing all Tennesseans and I want him to be successful because if he’s successful, all of Tennessee is successful.” 

State Rep. Jesse Chism also wants to collaborate with the governor on education and economic development, with the goal of helping the state grow by bringing in new companies while supporting small local businesses. “From an economic and development

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee is applauded after taking the oath of office in War Memorial Auditorium Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

standpoint, I believe Gov. Lee is going to be really great. He’s been a businessman in this state for a long time and I believe that he’s going to do a good job working with the people around him,” Chism said. “It looks like he has a listening ear, and I think that’s a good first step for anyone. When someone has a listening ear, they’re able to take their ego out of it, and Bill Lee seems like the kind of man who’s able to do those things.” 

Pastor Glenda Sutton and Assistant Pastor Vera Davis of Family Affair Ministries are strong advocates of Lee, citing his faith, “integrity” and “courage” as the reasons for their longtime support. “He won’t be afraid to tackle the real issues whether they’re Christian issues or not…he’ll speak the truth, he’ll be honorable and he will be insightful,” Sutton said, adding that she agrees with his stance on prison reform. 

“In his passion, he recognizes individuality and he supports forward movement,” Davis said. “He’s a people’s person and he wants the best, and the only way Tennessee can be great is if its citizens are great…He has a heart for the people of Tennessee, not just a party, and you have to have a heart for the people in order to govern.”