Gubernatorial candidates Karl Dean, Bill Lee debate education, healthcare in second debate

Photo courtesy of Johnson City Press Livestream

Gubernatorial candidates Karl Dean and Bill Lee discussed their platforms Tuesday night at the Eastman Employee Center in Kingsport, Tennessee. This debate marked the second of three total planned debates for the candidates running for governor of Tennessee.

The debate lasted an hour. Republican Candidate Bill Lee is a businessman from Franklin, Tennessee. Democratic Candidate Karl Dean served as the former mayor of Nashville. Both candidates won their respective primary elections on mostly positive campaigns.

This positivity was carried over into Tuesday night’s debate with Dean wishing Lee a “happy birthday” in his opening statement.

Topics discussed in the debate varied from Tennessee’s “absence” of truth and sentencing, to what each candidate was looking for in a health commissioner, thoughts on Medicaid expansion in Tennessee and views on public education.

When asked if he would sign a bill on Medicaid expansion in Tennessee, Dean said that he would “sign it happily.”

“We have literally given up about 4 billion dollars,” Dean said. “And that is money that is not being saved for us, but that is money that is being spent in other states … we need to get our Medicaid dollars back here (and) we don’t need to be exporting dollars and not bringing them back.”

Lee disagreed with Dean, saying that “taking federal money is not free money.”

“Putting federal dollars into a plan that is going to ultimately fail is a bad idea for every Tennessean,” Lee said. “We expanded Medicaid in this state once before, and we were told that it would lower costs. It ended up failing because we couldn’t afford it, it almost broke the state, and rolled off hundreds of thousands of people from that Medicaid program.”

On education, Dean referred to public education as the “key to the success of our country.” He said that he disagreed with the idea of having school vouchers for students to pick which school they can go to.

“Mr. Lee is an advocate for vouchers,” Dean said. “I have the scars on my back from my work in education reform, but I do not believe in vouchers because vouchers actually take public dollars and put them into a private education system. And by taking those dollars away from the public education system, it slowly undermines it.”

Lee said that choice in schools “is very important.” He referenced his work with Y-CAP (YMCA Community Action Programs) to mentor an at-risk intercity child in Middle Tennessee.

“I decided to mentor that kid,” Lee said. “I drove into a very troubled neighborhood once a week every week and spent one evening a week with that young man for five years. He was failing every class when I met him in his poor-performing school, and I had him move to another public school that I’d heard about. His educational trajectory absolutely changed, and what I saw is the kid’s very future was transformed by the power of a good education.”

The two candidates will be attending their third and final debate in Nashville on Friday, Oct. 12. Voting for the Tennessee gubernatorial election will take place on Nov. 6.

To contact News Editor Caleb Revill, email

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