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DGA Statement on Republican Primary in Tennessee

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Tonight, Democratic Governors Association Executive Director Elisabeth Pearson released the following statement regarding the Republican primary in Tennessee:
“Bill Lee is a shady businessman who is pushing a divisive social agenda that threatens the state’s economy,” said Pearson. “Lee would bring job-killing discrimination bills to Tennessee and would waste taxpayer dollars on expensive legal battles to defend his far-right policies. Lee’s business record is marred by ethics questions, alleged discrimination against a veteran by his company, and shady deals. It’s no surprise his policies would be so damaging to the state’s economy. Tennesseans need a governor who will put the state’s economy first, not someone like Bill Lee who wants to drag Tennessee backwards.”

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Background:
Nashville Scene Headline: “In a Republican Primary for Governor That’s a Race to the Bottom, We All Lose.” [Nashville Scene, 7/12/18]
Lee Opposed Same Sex Marriage, Suggested He Could Support a “Bathroom Bill.” According to the Tennessean, “Out of the six candidates, Republican Bill Lee is the only one who addresses his views on marriage and the LGBTQ community directly on his campaign website. The Williamson County businessman describes his belief that ‘marriage is between a man and a woman,’ and hints at transgender bathroom policies. He states ‘there are two sexes: female and male.’ But Lee said ‘most education issues are best decided at the local level.’ In an interview Thursday, Lee echoed his sentiment on bathroom policies, though ‘if the rights of citizens are being infringed, then the state has a role to play there.’ Lee said he supports having the state attorney general represent school systems in the event they’re sued for enforcing a bathroom policy, a concept proposed under a version of the bathroom bill that failed this year.” [Tennessean, 7/30/18] 
Lee Opposed Nondiscrimination Protections for LGBT Community. According to the Tennessean, “In the FACT guide, Lee describes the notion of creating another protected class based on gender or sexual orientation as ‘identity politics.’ ‘I would never advocate for any policy that discriminates against anyone,’ Lee said in the interview Thursday, citing his Christian faith. ‘There is no discrimination that I’m advocating for or that I would support.’ In 2011, Lee, as CEO of Lee Company, sent an email to members of Nashville’s Metro Council urging them to vote against the contractor nondiscrimination ordinance the city was considering.” [Tennessean, 7/30/18]
In 2016, a “Bathroom Bill” Failed in the Tennessee Legislature. According to the Associated Press, “A transgender bathroom bill in the Tennessee legislature failed Monday after the House sponsor said she was withdrawing the legislation while waiting to see how legal challenges play out in other states that have passed similar measures. The bill’s demise follows intense lobbying from both supporters and opponents of the measure and questions about potential economic fallout if it were to become law.” [Associated Press, 4/19/16]

  • Gov. Haslam Said He Received Calls and Emails from Businesses Expressing Concern About the Measure. According to the Associated Press, “Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, who said he had received calls and emails from a number of business people about the measure, had raised concerns that the state could lose education funding if the measure were to ever become law.” [Associated Press, 4/19/16]

Tennessean Headline: “Veteran’s Wrongful Termination Lawsuit Against Bill Lee’s Company in Spotlight During Heated Campaign.” [Tennessean, 7/25/18]
In 2009, a National Guard Member Claimed Wrongful Termination Against Lee’s Company After Deployment. According to the Tennessean, “Lee Company, the $240 million-per-year heating, cooling, plumbing and electrical business of Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee, was involved in a legal dispute in 2009 with an Army National Guard member who claimed wrongful termination. The lawsuit, filed by William O. Roark III, of Johnson City, was eventually settled, but only after more than a year of back-and-forth in federal court…. The complaint says Roark was deployed to Fort Campbell in January 2003 for 18 months and gave Lee Company notification per the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, which protects the rights of those who temporarily leave work to serve in the military, and the Family Medical Leave Act. In March 2003, Roark alleged the Lee Company improperly terminated his employment, according to the lawsuit. It took intervention from an Army advocate for the company to reinstate Roark, according to the lawsuit.” [Tennessean, 7/25/18]