2020 brings challenges for Bill Lee

Frank CagleFrank Talk

Bill Lee’s governorship is in some ways unique in modern Tennessee politics. He came into office as a bit of a fluke after his opponents destroyed each other. He did not come up through party ranks, he didn’t have the Republican establishment nor the conservative rightwing in his camp. He had never held office before. He was an appealing choice given the disgusting campaigns by his two chief opponents. And given the state of state politics, all he had to do was win the Republican primary, which has become the election.


After hearing Lee make a virtue out of having no political experience a friend observed: “I guess the next time I need a plumber I’ll send for somebody who’s never seen a pipe wrench.”

Frank Cagle

Having secured the governorship, the Republican establishment will not make any effort to replace Lee. The only threat to his re-election would be from a disgruntled rightwing.

Lee announced that he approves the continuation of the refugee resettlement program. You may or may not remember that the state legislature arranged for a private attorney to sue to stop the program after the attorney general’s office refused to do so. President Trump ordered that the resettlement program can continue as long as it’s approved by state and local governments. Lee approved continuing the program allowing refugees to be resettled in the state while his Republican legislators are in court trying to stop it. That makes for a strained relationship for the upcoming legislative session.

Lee’s decision is understandable from one standpoint. He is a veteran of many mission trips to Third World countries wracked by poverty and political turmoil. He has seen suffering firsthand and is naturally disposed to help. The program is also run by religious groups with whom Lee has an affinity. He made a moral decision, not a political one.

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally and House Speaker Cameron Sexton have to herd the Republican super majority to enact the administration’s legislation. I doubt they were consulted on the decision and they may find it harder to build support for Lee’s legislative program.

But it isn’t only legislators who are upset. Middle Tennessee is a hotbed of anti-immigration and Lee is getting criticism there as well. Contrast that with Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, who also approved of continuing the program and has faced minimal opposition or criticism. Jacobs is also an executive holding his first public office. When queried his office said he supported resettlement because “it’s the right thing to do” and the mayor supports pursuit of the American dream.

There are still some hurt feelings among legislators from last session. If you recall, Lee’s voucher bill was opposed by 50 percent of the House and then-Speaker Glen Casada held the vote open until Knoxville’s state Rep. Jason Zachary changed his vote, preferring to curry favor with Casada and Lee rather than his constituents. Passage of the voucher bill may have been a factor in the bill sponsor, state Rep. Bill Dunn, deciding to retire. Legislators across the state will have local teachers and boards of education angry in the coming election and many legislators who voted for vouchers may draw an opponent as a result. This is not likely to make legislators happy when they have to stay home after session to fund-raise and campaign instead of taking the family to Disney World.

Drawing an opponent with an issue and a well-funded campaign is every legislator’s nightmare.

For Lee to be a successful governor he needs the support of his Republican legislators. If he spends the rest of his term at odds with a large percentage of them it will be hard to get anything done.

Fan abuse: Why do we allow ESPN and the NCAA to satisfy everyone but the fans of college football? In order to schedule the Pinstripe Bowl, the Cheez-It Bowl, the SERVPRO First Responder Bowl, the Camping World Bowl and all the other ridiculously named bowls, the result is a national championship game on a Monday night in the middle of January instead of New Year’s Day as the football gods intended. A game during the holidays. In the day time.

If you asked the fans, I don’t think you would find anyone who would pick Monday, Jan. 13, at 8 p.m. as the optimum time to decide the championship of the most popular college sport. At least not anybody who has a job to go to on Tuesday. Or someone who can’t afford to buy cable. Or even college students with Tuesday morning classes.

Of course, the NCAA basketball championship was also played on a Monday night. I blame Roone Arledge and Howard Cosell who invented pro football on Monday night so all the gamblers who lost money on the weekend could try and get even.

Major intersection: Just west of Farragut there is a place called Dixie Lee Junction. No, it isn’t named for a Southern Belle. It is where the north-south and east-west major highways intersected in the days before the interstate.

The Dixie Highway runs from Canada to Miami. The Lee Highway is the Southern route from New York to San Diego, via Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama, etc. Dixie Lee Junction was the only place the two highways intersected.

Like most other things deemed politically incorrect there is a movement to rename the streets and roads that made up the pre-interstate interstate. The highways often went through towns. Down in Florida cities are renaming the section of the highway in the city limits. There are at least five cities that have changed the name of the Dixie Highway to something else and the movement continues. History is being obliterated one street at a time.

Frank Cagle is a former managing editor of the Knoxville News Sentinel.

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