Bill Lee hopes ‘conservative outsider’ tag takes him to governor’s office

Photo: WKRN

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Once in a while, a political novice takes aim at the top office and wins – and that’s the hope of Middle Tennessee businessman Bill Lee who says his life’s work now is to serve others.

Rolling around Tennessee in a smoky grey bus with his name emblazoned in UT orange on the side, the Franklin businessman pledged to visit the state’s 95 counties in 95 days after announcing his run for governor in April.

By this weekend, Lee’s campaign says he will have only 11 counties to go on his pledge.

“Ninety-five counties in 95 days” is a phrase the campaign hopes will elevate Lee’s name recognition in a crowded race for the Republican nomination for governor where several of the candidates are much better known.

On his website, Lee has branded himself as a “conservative outsider,” which counters his lack of experience in ever running for political office.

Last month, News 2 caught up with Lee and his wife Maria as they spoke to about 20 people at a luncheon in Dickson.

Gatherings like those day in and day out, is another element of upping his name recognition and getting a message out that is different from others.

Lee told the group he has served on boards, like the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and done prison mentoring. Those, and other experiences, led him to think he could run for political office.

“It was about leadership. It was about passion and it was about an interest in making people’s lives better and about saving taxpayer money,” Lee explained.

Along with being the “conservative outsider,” Lee’s website also touts the family business that he helped expand to more than 1,100 workers. Though, his being a seventh generation Tennessean is listed first on the site, along with being a father, farmer and man of faith.

In what he called his “toughest question” from the Dickson group last month, Lee told them how he would bring together an often rowdy Tennessee legislature against the backdrop of a divided country.

“As the national scene becomes more and more divisive, we are going to have to work together so that doesn’t happen locally,” added Lee after the gathering. “Creating coalitions is challenging, but it’s possible and I kind of look forward to that.”

When asked what he’s learned in his initial political odyssey, Lee tells what he’s heard at every stop and what is also on his website.

“People want a good job. They want a good school for their kid and they want a safe neighborhood–and that is a universal desire for every Tennessean,” says Lee.

Two other Republicans, State Senator Mae Beavers and East Tennessee businessman Randy Boyd, have announced a run for governor.

Former Nashville mayor Karl Dean is the only Democrat in the race so far.