PHOTO: Bill Lee holds his final town hall prior to the primary election inside the Fairview Recreation Center on Tuesday, July 31, 2018. / Photo by Brooke Wanser
By BROOKE WANSER
Fairview Recreation Center hosted around 600 people on Tuesday night during gubernatorial candidate and Williamson County businessman Bill Lee’s final town hall in his hometown.
“It has been quite a journey,” he said. “Poor Maria, she can say my speech backwards and forwards by now!” he chuckled, acknowledging his wife’s commitment to the campaign.
“I want to commit the next eight years of my life,” he said.
Lee, the chairman and CEO of Lee Company, is running against House Speaker Beth Harwell, U.S. Congressman Diane Black, and Knoxville entrepreneur Randy Boyd in the Republican primary. Former Nashville mayor Karl Dean and Rep. Craig Fitzhugh are running in the Democratic primary.
After the event, Lee greeted Tennesseans before speaking about his outlook on the race.
“We feel really good about the momentum,” he said, even in the last few weeks. “I think people have come to realize that they want an outsider,” he said.
Steve Berger, the pastor of Grace Chapel in Leiper’s Fork said that Lee had run a “Godly campaign,” by not attacking his opponents in the race.
The crowd applauded Berger’s sentences, and stretched their hands out toward Lee and his wife, Maria, as Berger prayed over the couple.
County Commissioner Ricky Jones held up a photo of Lee as a class president of Fairview Middle School, introducing the man who then attended Franklin High School.
Williamson County commissioner Jeff Ford, who is running for District 61 representative, Sen. Jack Johnson, Rep. Sam Whitson, and Rep. Glen Casada were in attendance, while Williamson County Sheriff Jeff Long was the emcee of the event, encouraging the crowd to “vote Bill Lee for governor.”
Johnson noted he had attended events for each of the four Republican candidates, and would be happy if any were elected as governor.
Award-winning musician Ricky Skaggs performed Christian numbers, while Michael W. Smith and Darrell Waltrip were in attendance.
Waltrip, a former NASCAR champion and Franklin resident, spoke briefly, saying, “Thursday night, we’re going to follow Bill Lee in Tennessee,” he said.
Smith also spoke out in favor of Lee, saying “it’s a miracle of God” how the polls have shifted in Lee’s favor.
Tomorrow, Waltrip will be among a group that travels to Chattanooga, Memphis, Franklin, and Knoxville before election day Thursday.
Lee, dressed casually in khakis and a green checkered shirt, took a moment to gather himself before speaking to the crowd.
“I remember the day the Lord called me to run. And it’s been up and down here and there back and forth tens of thousands of miles encouraging, discouraging, but here we are,” Lee said, “and I am really glad He called me to do it.”
“My faith in Christ is the most important thing in my life,” Lee said simply.
“We have good jobs in a lot of places, but we’ve got 15 counties in poverty,” he said. “We’ve got good schools in a lot of place, but we’re in the bottom half of the schools in America. We’ve got safe neighborhoods in a lot of places, but we’ve got a crime rate that’s rising in every major city in this state, year after year.”
“I think Tennesseans want a conservative,” Lee continued. “This is a very conservative state, and I’m a deeply conservative man.”
He spoke about the negative ads in the race, saying, “I think Tennesseans see through it.”
Addressing the crowd, Lee said, “If you elect me as your governor, I won’t be beholden to anybody but you,” to loud applause. “We can be a state that leads the nation.”