Governor Bill Lee: Tribune’s “Loser of the Year”

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee puts on his mask during a break in the state budget hearings Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. According to a Vanderbilt University School of Medicine study released Tuesday, Tennessee counties that have not required wearing masks in public are on average seeing COVID-19 death rates double or more compared with those that instituted mandates. Lee has opposed a statewide mask mandate, stressing personal responsibility. He has instead allowed counties to decide whether to require masks. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

By Tribune Staff

NASHVILLE, TN — When Bill Lee was elected Governor, there were a lot of concerns over whether he was going to be nothing more than a Trump rubber stamp, someone using the state’s highest office to endorse and promote dubious, controversial and even racist notions while also offering a one-sided, highly questionable view of the role of religion in government. Lee pledged that his political and personal beliefs wouldn’t interfere with his ability to fairly govern.

Lee clearly showed where he stood this past summer by continually refusing to meet with protestors at the State Capitol. His response was to endorse, support and later sign a constitutionally dubious bill making it a felony to camp outside the Capitol. This came despite the fact the vast majority of those camping there for weeks behaved lawfully, and they repeatedly said they would permanently disperse had the Governor simply chosen to meet with them.

Instead, he decided to create a way to criminalize peaceful protest, and add to the ranks of Black, Brown and poor people behind bars for ridiculous reasons. The bill was so poorly written and conceived even Lee later said he had doubts about its constitutionality, though that didn’t stop him from signing it.

But that’s only one thing. The Governor publicly snubbed Tennessee’s Legislative Black Caucus, refusing to meet with them in August. They requested a meeting to discuss the treatment of protesters outside the Capitol, as well as a recent Facebook post from Lt. Governor Randy McNally that shared intimating support for violence against Black Lives Matter protesters.

The meeting was proposed so Black legislators could discuss multiple concerns they had regarding Lee’s attitudes about systemic racism in multiple areas of state government. Lee’s response was he receives many requests for appointments and was focused on meeting with “groups that are willing to work together to move forward.”

Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, D-Chattanooga, called it a “badge of honor” that Lee had declined to meet with the caucus earlier in the month. “I think it says to our community that we’re willing to say to him things that make him uncomfortable,” Hakeem said. He added Lee had backtracked on previous pledges to address criminal justice reform.

Another indicator was Lee’s silence on the actions and rhetoric of his Lt. Governor Rand McNally. McNally posted to his personal Facebook page a supposed “warning to BLM & Antifa.” With a photo of a militia member dressed in fatigues and carrying an assault weapon in the background, the post said “Once you’ve managed to defund & eliminate the police, there’s nobody protecting you from us. Remember that.” McNally later deleted the post after intense backlash.

Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis and chairman of the Black Caucus called for an investigation into the organization that initially posted the image on Facebook. Hardaway also directly rebuked the Lt. Governor, who acknowledged he needed to be “more sensitive in the future.” “It’s not enough for the lieutenant governor to say he’ll try to be more sensitive,” Hardaway said, explaining McNally needed to try to talk down “the nuts out there” and discourage violence, rather than endorse it. That’s something it would seem anyone in government would understand.

Other than his public support for moving a bust of Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest from the state house to the state museum and expressing a desire to change a law requiring him to issue a yearly proclamation in Forrest’s honor, Lee has done  little to show genuine concern about a host of important issues regarding Blacks and others not part of his select GOP circle. 

These items range from expanding economic opportunity and decreasing the disparity in employment contracts for minority firms to  helping implement statewide reforms to make certain everyone has access to medical insurance and health care, or addressing the need for improvement in the state’s educational system.

He has been just as clueless in regards to COVID-19 as the man he blindly follows, refusing to issue a mask mandate even as infections spike and hospitals continue filling up. He’s left the task of dealing with the virus to mayors, many of whom finally did what he wouldn’t do because they didn’t see any other option. 

It would be essentially impossible for most people to argue that the Lee administration thus far has been a big success. The Tennessee Tribune proclaims him our Loser of the Year, with Lt. Governor McNally a close second.