Over the past year, WPLN has been asking the candidates for governor where they stand on topics important to Tennessee voters.
Now that former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, a Democrat, and Williamson County businessman Bill Lee, a Republican, have clinched their parties’ nominations, we’re pulling their answers together. Read on to see what they think about a dozen key issues.
What do you see as the key to preventing mass shootings?
Karl Dean: I think, number one, we have a conversation in our state around access to guns. … It seems to me that there can be a common agreement that keeping firearms out of the hands of people that are dangerous — whether they have criminal records, whether they have some sort of mental illness, whether they are prone to violence, domestic violence or whatever that’s been shown — that maybe our background needs to be better.
Bill Lee: We could never afford to bring about and institute policies and government programs that are going to address the mental health challenges of our state. I think again that’s where we’re going to engage the nonprofit communities across the state and the private sector, in fact, to address the root causes of some of these challenges that we have in our society.
What additional restrictions, if any, do you favor placing on abortion?
Karl Dean: I think abortion is an intensely emotional issue, and I think there are a wide variety of opinions on that issue, but I believe a woman’s medical decisions should be made between her and her doctor and her family and her faith, and that politicians should not insert themselves into that conversation. I’d have to look at whatever is proposed, but I do believe that this decision — which is a highly personal one, a highly emotional one — is one that is between a woman and her doctor, her family and her faith.
Bill Lee: I would be for any restriction that would limit abortions. Anything we can do to reduce the number of abortions in this state, I would be in favor of.
Are there circumstances under which you believe Tennesseans ought to be allowed to possess and use marijuana?
Karl Dean: I would be supportive of medical marijuana. I would not be supportive of recreational use. In terms of medical marijuana, what I think we should be guided by is the medical prodfession. When the medical profession says there’s an identifiable, concrete reason this could help with someone’s care, I think that should be permitted. I certainly would not want the state, if there’s medical evidence and the medical profession supporting it, standing in the way of people receiving relief from their suffering.
Bill Lee: I don’t think Tennesseans should be able to possess and use marijuana. I’m opposed to using medical marijuana until we determine that there is data, substantial data, that shows that it really is as effective as some propose that it is. I think that we should look to expand the low-THC forms of CBD oils that are already a part of Tennessee law, and we certainly ought to look at that first.
If elected governor, would you see yourself as an ally of the Trump administration? Why or why not?
Karl Dean: The way I look at this is: I’m running for governor of Tennessee. I’m not running against or for President Trump. I’m running to run the state of Tennessee, to manage the state in a way that’s best for the people of Tennessee, and to move the state forward. I obviously would seek to have a positive relationship with the federal government and with the president of the United States. I think that would be beneficial to the state, but my interest would be to help Tennessee move forward.
Bill Lee: I support many of the things that President Trump has accomplished in his days. I’m grateful for tax reform, for regulation rollback, for appointment of justices, for border security. So, I am in support of much of what President Trump has done, and I’m grateful that he is accomplishing what, in many ways, Congress has not been able to for many years. … I will continue to support the work that he does that’s beneficial to Tennesseans, certainly.
Do you feel the state legislature has meddled in the affairs of Nashville and other cities? If so, as governor, what would you do about it?
Karl Dean: Well, I think it’s a complicated issue. I think there are times when I believe the legislature has interfered with local government, but at the same time, there are periods where they’ve been criticized for things where perhaps state standards were the appropriate way to go. … I don’t think the state should go out of its way to interfere in local affairs, and it really comes down to sort of the wisdom and judgment of kind of knowing what the balance is. In general, we should respect the past tradition of where we’ve allowed a lot of local government to take care of local affairs.
Bill Lee: I think it’s important that the state and municipalities have a good working relationship, and I would work to be certain that’s the case if I’m governor.
Testing shows that white students in Tennessee are outperforming black and Hispanic students. What are the first steps you’d take to close the “achievement gap”?
Karl Dean: I think what we have to do, for all areas of education, is fund it appropriately and continue to make that a high priority. … To me, addressing the achievement gap is one where you’re bringing pre-K, where you’re putting the resources into early literacy and having great teachers. So all of those things that would benefit students is what I would propose doing, and putting the added resources in areas where it is clearly shown that it’s needed.
Bill Lee: We need to be certain that all students receive the highest quality of education that we can. It starts with providing choices for parents, for students all across the state. When we provide choices, then not only is an individual kid’s life improved, but the system itself is improved. So, a choice is a big opportunity for improvement for all students.
Do you favor a voucher program for K-12 education, and if so, how would you implement vouchers during your administration?
Karl Dean: I do not support vouchers. I believe that what vouchers will end up doing is taking money away from the public education system, which is already underfunded.
Bill Lee: I do think that a voucher program would give an opportunity for parents to have a choice, and I think when parents have freedom and choice, then not only their children (and) their life is improved, the bar is raised for everybody. … So, a pilot program — in some of the worst performing schools — I think we should look at that, if it might raise the bar.
Many states are applying for Medicaid waivers that impose working requirements on certain Medicaid program beneficiaries. How do you feel about work requirements for Medicaid beneficiaries and would you pursue such a waiver?
Karl Dean: I believe that having work requirements is not a bad thing. And if it can be made to work in a sensible way, and it doesn’t discourage people from seeking medical attention, and it doesn’t penalize people and become too much of bureaucracy, then fine. I think encouraging people to work is always appropriate. But I want to make sure that it is handled in the right way and doesn’t end up creating more bureaucracy and more paperwork than it actually solves a problem.
Bill Lee: I do believe that work requirements are a good idea, but I actually think we go further than that. … We have this escalating cost of our TennCare program, and what we need to do is be certain that users of that program have some incentive to help us lower cost. Otherwise, nothing will ever change about the cost for that part of our health system. When you have a TennCare patient who has no incentive to go to a primary care provider in lieu of going to the ER, there’s something wrong with that system. Or when you don’t reward healthy behavior over unhealthy behavior, there’s something wrong there as well. So, I do think we need to go even deeper.
Do you believe Tennesseans should be able to carry handguns without getting permits?
Karl Dean: I am a supporter of the Second Amendment, but I believe the gun laws that we have right now are adequate. I think they cover what needs to be covered, and I don’t see a need for a change.
Bill Lee: I don’t, primarily because I’m a guy who’s listening to law enforcement and what they believe, and law enforcement is very much against that. I do however believe in Second Amendment rights, and I truly believe we ought to expand those Second Amendment rights by reducing and/or eliminating the fees associated with a carry permit. So, I believe we should expand Second Amendment rights, but I believe we ought to keep in place background checks and safety requirements.
Note: Lee recently told The Tennessean that he
would not oppose letting Tennesseans carry guns without a permit if it passes the legislature.
Should children brought here illegally but who graduate from a Tennessee high school be eligible for in-state tuition?
Karl Dean: Yes, I believe they should. I’m on the same page on this issue as Governor Haslam. I agree with him that allowing all students who call Tennessee home to pay in-state tuition is the right thing. I think not only is it good for the students, it’s good for the state. I believe that it will strengthen our workforce, and it’ll allow students who might not have a chance to go to college to go to college.
Bill Lee: I don’t think they should, primarily because I think it’s a system of fairness. It’s not really fair, from my perspective, to offer in-state tuition to an illegal immigrant and not offer in-state tuition to an American citizen from an adjacent state.
Do immigrants contribute to or take away from the state economy?
Karl Dean: I think immigration has overall been a great thing for our country. In terms of, you look at the history of the United States and our prosperity is directly related to people who have moved to our country over the many decades it’s existed. I think legal immigration has a very positive effect on the economy. … Illegal immigration obviously is illegal, which creates a whole series of issues, but you know, I think that’s an issue that we have all waited on the federal government in Washington, D.C., to get their arms around.
Bill Lee: Where we have illegal immigrants in this state, that is something we deal with them as illegal immigrants. … Legal immigrants add to our economy, for certain, in the way that any legal resident does.
Would you dedicate all money that comes from a potential settlement with opioid drug makers to addiction treatment?
Karl Dean: Obviously, there’s certain things you would consider such as treatment [and] education-related things, but it’s something I would need to think about a lot more carefully before weighing in on. … Not knowing anything about any discussions, it sounds to me like you would want it to be directed toward something that’s related to what the lawsuit was about, whether it’s treatment or education about drug issues. But again I think for me to comment definitively on that at this point is very premature.
Bill Lee: The pharmaceutical industry has a significant role to play in the solutions to this because they had a significant role to play in the development of this crisis in our country and certainly in our state. You know, I wouldn’t say what I would do with that money until I knew how much it was and what that actual settlement is going to look like. I certainly think we’ve got to invest in treatment programs. But how we do that would depend on what those settlements actually look like.