Plumbing company executive Bill Lee nears gubernatorial bid

Bill Lee (Courtesy: Lee Company)

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – Plumbing company executive Bill Lee says he’s close to jumping into the Tennessee governor’s race.

The Franklin businessman has reportedly been touring the state and meeting with Republican leaders. While a formal announcement may be weeks away, Lee says he wants to join the race “sooner rather than later.”

Lee is chairman of the Lee Co., which was founded by his grandfather. The company’s services include plumbing, electrical and HVAC for residential, business and government customers. Lee said he wants voters to know he’s “a regular guy.”

“I have a plumbing license, I raise cattle and show livestock, I clean barns, I clean stalls,” he said. “I’m a regular person who happens to own and run a big company and have CEO experience.”

“This is just about leadership and leadership around meaningful, purposeful work, and I started having conversations about public service,” Lee told the newspaper. “Ultimately, I just kind of said what it would be like to wake up in the morning instead of thinking how do I make life better for 1,100 Lee Company workers, how do I make life better for 6.5 million people?”

Lee described himself as a “very socially conservative guy who’s business minded.” He said his main priorities are jobs, education and public safety, but he acknowledged that his inexperience in politics could present a steep learning curve.

On specific questions of policy, Lee said he’s not trying to be evasive on issues, “but I’m just going, ‘Gosh, I don’t know if I would do this or that.'”

Several Republican candidates are expected to join the field seeking to succeed term-limited Gov. Bill Haslam next year, though businessman Randy Boyd and state Sen. Mark Green are the only ones to make it official so far. And Green’s candidacy may be short-lived should be he be named to join President Donald Trump’s administration.

Other potential GOP candidates include state Sen. Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet, U.S. Rep. Diane Black of Gallatin, former state Rep. Joe Carr of Murfreesboro, House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville.

“I just think Tennessee could be better,” Lee said. “Until everyone is kind of reaping the benefits of who we are as a state and feel like we’re in a good spot, then we have to keep after it.”