Tennessee’s next governor celebrated Tuesday night to shouts of “amen” and by pledging to follow the “Golden Rule.” Republican Bill Lee won in a lopsided victory with nearly 60 percent of the vote but struck a tone of humility.
Many voters liked Bill Lee’s positive tone even in the primary race, when he came from behind to easily win a five-way race. On Tuesday, Steve Johnson of Smyrna voted for Lee, calling him a “good man.”
“He did not do a smear campaign,” Johnson said. “He never talked bad about anybody.”
In conceding the race, Democrat Karl Dean even praised Lee for “taking the high road.”
“He has other fine qualities, but he stood out in the Republican primary because of the way he conducted himself.”
And his most ardent supporters stressed that point at the victory party.
“So the next time someone tells you how ugly politics is, point them to this campaign,” Christian music artist and longtime friend Michael W. Smith said while introducing the governor-elect to hundreds at the Factory in Franklin. “Bill Lee set a new standard.”
Several speakers praised Lee’s humility, “Godly” character and Christian conviction. The evening began with a pastor asking everyone to raise their hands toward the stage during an opening prayer.
But even before the Tuesday night’s victory, some voters expressed concerns about Lee’s emphasis on Christian faith.
“There is a point at which I think I am not going to be represented by someone who maybe sees me as less American or as less of a good person just because I’m not a Christian or a certain type of Christian,” said Jacob Sharpe, an engineer from Coffee County who says he would have considered voting for Lee if just based on his business credentials.
When pressed by reporters about some of the religious rhetoric of the campaign and victory celebration, Lee quoted Jesus’s command to “love thy neighbor as thyself” and the Golden Rule of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.
“I hope others will feel that I am called to serve every single person,” Lee said. “I think when those principles are applied, they will in fact pull people together and unify them around causes that are good for every Tennessean.”
Lee said he plans to focus on criminal justice and rehabilitating offenders as well as expanding vocational education and supporting rural economies. He pledged to earn the respect of every Tennessean.
“I’m going to do everything I can for those who didn’t vote for me to ultimately make them proud that I am their governor.”