The Republican is a seventh-generation Tennessean from Williamson County and chairman and former CEO of Lee Co., a home services, facilities and construction company based out of Nashville with more than 1,000 employees.
Lee discussed growing up in rural Tennessee and said he is deeply concerned about the future of agriculture in the state.
“Our state is a rural state with some big cities. Those cities have been developing, and the rural community has struggled,” he said. “I do believe that if the next governor doesn’t do something decisively different, we may lose a way of life in rural Tennessee, and if we do, we will all regret it.”
Lee said his life was drastically altered in 2000 when his first wife died in a horse-riding accident. He said through the pain, he began to work with community nonprofit organizations, including Men of Valor, a re-entry program for ex-offenders.
Lee also discussed his religious beliefs and the role religion played in his life after his wife’s death.
“My relationship with Jesus Christ is the most important thing in my life, and it always will be,” said Lee, who said as a conservative, he would like to see the role of government decrease.
“Our goal should be to have government recede, but in order for that to happen, part of what government does, we need to have done more efficiently and more effectively by other sources,” he said.
Lee said he is in the middle of a faith in Tennessee tour and has visited 22 faith-based nonprofit organizations across the state.
“I think the faith community, in particular, is under-engaged, under-aspired and underutilized as a resource in the state to bring about change. Part of that is because the voice of the faithful has been made to feel increasingly unwelcomed, particularly in a public square,” he said.
Lee said he would work to change the role of nonprofit, faith-based organizations if elected governor.
“I plan to have an office of faith-based and community initiatives that would be under the governor’s office,” Lee said. “That office would specifically be designed to be a liaison between nonprofits and the state, so that we can understand what we can do and cannot do and how we can facilitate and encourage working with one another in the nonprofit world.”
Lee said the office would help community nonprofits with grants and other resources.
“I have a lot of ideas about that. It’s relatively new in my head,” he said.
Lee said he believed for the state to continue to thrive, the future cannot be solely dependent upon government.
“We do have some real challenges in the state, but I have a lot of hope for what Tennessee can be. It’s already a great state, but I have a lot of hope for what it can be. There is so much more that it can be, and it won’t get there by growing government and making government solve the problems,” he said.
Lee faces fellow Republicans House Speaker Beth Harwell, former state economic and community development commissioner Randy Boyd, Congresswoman Diane Black and realtor Kay White for the Republican nomination in a statewide primary Aug. 2. Democrat frontrunners state House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh and former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean will also meet in the Democrat primary.