NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A day after securing enough votes to become Tennessee’s next governor, Republican Bill Lee says he will soon reveal his top policy proposals and cabinet selections as he transitions into the office.
The governor-elect had previously held off answering questions on direct policy positions along the campaign trail, arguing he had an election to win first before diving into specifics.
On Wednesday, Lee joined term-limited Gov. Bill Haslam in the Tennessee Capitol to celebrate the election win in front of a cheering crowd made up of lawmakers and Republican officials. During the event, Lee announced he would be taking a little time before giving an outline of what the businessman’s agenda will look like in the upcoming months.
When asked specifically on how he would approach key cabinet appointments, such as education commissioner, Lee said his team was still developing a strategy. The night before, Lee had told reporters he was open to appointing Democrats to his administration.
“I worked really hard to stay focused on the election to be honest with you, and we have not begun the process, but we are actually beginning it today,” Lee said. “Our team will start to sit down and talk about specifics about transition.”
When Haslam was elected in 2010, he conducted a nationwide search to find the right person to lead Tennessee’s Department of Education. Haslam also announced who would be leading his transition team and the head of his inauguration team a week after winning the election.
“I can remember standing here with Gov. (Phil Bredesen), doing this eight years ago as vividly as it was yesterday,” Haslam said. “You’ve spent the better part of two years running for this position and you realize there’s a lot you don’t know.”
Along with an education commissioner, Lee is in charge of appointing more than 20 people to lead agencies ranging from agriculture to health care. However, Lee could also push to cut certain agencies — an option that gained interest when Lee pointed to other states that had many fewer agencies than Tennessee.
“Running an efficient government is very important; we’ll begin looking at opportunities to do that as well,” Lee said, adding he hadn’t made any immediate plans to reduce any particular agency.
Lee won Tuesday’s election against former Democratic Nashville Mayor Karl Dean by a nearly 20-point margin.
It was the first time Lee, owner of a $225 million mechanical contracting, facilities and home services company with more than 1,200 employees, had ever run for political office.
Since he first announced his bid to replace Haslam, Lee has positioned himself as a political outsider that Tennessee needs to bring the state from “good to great.” However, that stance also comes with questions on how he’ll govern.
Lee has said his priorities starting off will be economic development for rural communities, criminal justice reforms that will create safer neighborhoods, and education reform, with a focus on vocational and technical education. No specific policies were released Wednesday on those topics.
Additionally, it’s still unknown how Lee will handle the contracts his company has with local governments.
According to a public records review by The Associated Press, the Lee Company does not have any current contracts with the state after choosing not to renew a sweeping electrical, HVAC and plumbing deal at the end of the August.
Yet, the company still contracts with local cities and counties — a situation that sparked questions among some attorneys and ethics experts about the possible legal logistics of a governor’s private business contracting with governments.
Lee had said he would stop all state contracts if elected governor, but he has yet to address what he will do the local contracts.
“We’re set to meet just this week on specifics and on how to structure the company in a way that’s clear and transparent but that also provides for no conflicts of interest,” he said.