TN Gov. Bill Lee touts accomplishments, still work to do
Published 2:25 pm Tuesday, January 24, 2023
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee was sworn into his second term of office in Nashville Saturday, touting his first term achievements in education, health care and rural economic development.
Lee in his inaugural speech maintained “Tennessee is leading the nation, and it’s good that we reflect on that and celebrate it.”
Among what Lee termed accomplishments were a controversial Medicaid waiver, the first in the nation. Tennessee gained approval for the block grant, which replaces an Obama-era Medicaid expansion.
Lee also cited the creation of the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement, a new education funding formula that starts state funding at the same amount for each child and adds money based on individual needs from economic disadvantages to disabilities.
Lee noted the attraction of the massive Ford Blue Oval City to rural West Tennessee, saying “Tennessee is proof that the state with the workers will win every time.”
The governor briefly stated what his priorities might be for his coming term in office, making a thinly-veiled reference to chronic problems in the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services — where lack of staff and an insufficient number of foster homes have led to children being forced to sleep on the floors of state office buildings — noting the need to “protect children in our custody and in our state with a better foster care and adoption process.”
Other priorities Lee gave were the creation of a transportation strategy and efforts to conserve Tennessee’s environment.
Despite his claims of success, Lee’s first term was marked by controversy over several of his initiatives.
He waded into some deep waters with a school voucher program — the Educational Savings Account — which provides state funds to families to use to pay for private schools. The school voucher program barely passed in a 2019 legislative vote marked by allegations of bribes offered by former House Speaker Glen Casada, who has been indicted on federal charges related to another issue.
And, in July the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services ordered state leaders to modify its block grant, requiring the state to add dental coverage and forbidding TennCare from cutting coverage for expensive drugs deemed necessary by doctors.
The governor has promised to focus over the next four years on improving aging transportation systems, advocating for better conservation efforts, and protecting the state’s most vulnerable children.
Gov. Lee has done Tennessee proud. Prior to his election as governor, he had never held public office, and was not that well-known on the state-wide spectrum. His first four years were a learning experience. We can expect a more-experienced governor to lead this state to bigger and better things during the next four years as more and more families are moving to Tennessee.
A businessman and farmer, Lee handily won reelection last fall in a state that has not seen a Democrat in the top statewide office in more than a decade. His win came after he was the first incumbent governor in about three decades to have no primary opponent. He avoided an intraparty challenge in August in part by leading on legislation on some of the most fiery socially conservative topics, including the right to carry in public without a permit and a strict abortion ban both of which he signed into law.
To date, Lee has never vetoed a bill sent to his desk from the Republican-dominated Legislature, but he has occasionally let some become law without signing them to signal his unease.
We wish the governor well in his second term and that he continues to make Tennessee proud.