Republican Bill Lee will be Tennessee’s next governor.
In his first run for political office, the Franklin businessman bested Democrat and former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean.
After a surprise primary victory over Randy Boyd and Diane Black, Lee consistently led Dean in polling.
The two were mostly cordial on the campaign trail, offering praise for one another from debate stages, though Dean attempted to distance himself from Lee on issues including health care and gun safety. Dean said he would have called a special session of the Tennessee General Assembly to pass Medicaid expansion, while Lee opposes such an expansion.
Lee will succeed the term-limited Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, who like Dean, supported Medicaid expansion.
In his speech after declaring victory, Lee talked of traveling to every county in the state in an old RV.
“I offer congratulations to Karl Dean on a race well run,” said Lee. “Running for governor is tough work, and it means a lot to put yourself out there to the voters – we need more involvement in the public discourse, not less, and I thank Karl for his commitment to our state.”
“I want to speak for just a second to those who may not have voted for me tonight: I want you to know from the bottom of my heart, I care about you, I care about your family, and I’m going to do my very best to make you proud that I’m your governor.”
Lee, the chairman of Franklin’s Lee Company and a seventh generation Tennessean, graduated from Franklin High School, then Auburn University, where he met his first wife, Carol Ann. The Lees settled back down on the 1,000 acre Triple L farm in Fernvale, beginning their family with four children.
Tragedy struck nearly 20 years ago when Caroline was killed after a horse riding accident on the farm.
Lee’s grandfather founded Lee Refrigeration Service Company in 1944; the heating, cooling, electrical, plumbing and appliance service business is now called Lee Company, and has over 1,200 employees.
His second wife, Maria, was a teacher at Christ Presbyterian Academy when they met. The Lees have four children, Jessica, twin sons Jacob and Caleb, and Sarah Kate; as well as five grandchildren.