Three of the leading Republican candidates for Tennessee governor met for a debate at the Halloran Centre in Memphis Wednesday night.
Diane Black, Randy Boyd and Bill Lee were questioned about key issues, including arming teachers with guns, the opioid crisis in Tennessee and Confederate monuments.
When asked about arming teachers, all three candidates said they would not oppose the idea.
“Our children need to be protected,” Lee said. He also suggested the state needs to find the absolute best way to do that and it may be arming teachers.
Black added that every child and teacher “deserves a safe environment.” She also said teachers need to be well-trained by law enforcement if they are armed.
Boyd said if teachers are armed, it needs to be voluntary. He added the country and state need to “do a better job” at helping those with mental issues.
Another issue that candidates addressed was unfair spending on roads and infrastructure across the state. According to TDOT, the state is spending more than 2.1 billion dollars on current projects but Shelby County is fourth in spending despite being the most populous.
The candidates were asked what they would do to make this spending more equitable across the state.
“I will tell you that my visits here in West Tennessee over the last several months have indicated to me that West Tennessee has been left out,” Black said. “I do think they have been left behind and I call that Nashville neglect.”
“There is no doubt that the focus has not been put where that needs to be put,” Lee added. “I know how important, especially if we want Tennessee to lead in this nation, we have to have a rapid increase in Memphis and Shelby County.”
“As the governor, we’re going to make sure that west Tennessee gets the attention it needs and makes the investment to catch up,” Boyd said.
When asked if Memphis did the right thing by removing the Confederate monuments, all three candidates shared the same opinion.
“I think they need to be careful when removing those statues, they’re removing our history. We don’t celebrate those dark moments but we have them there so we don’t repeat them,” said Black.
Lee said that he did not agree with the decision made by the city of Memphis and stressed that Confederate monuments are a part of who we are.
“I don’t think Memphis did the right thing. We have a rich, deep complicated history; it’s part of who we are, and there are parts we deeply regret,” said Lee.
“I agree with my colleagues that we need to preserve our history. Our history is our history; sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, but we need to learn from it,” Boyd said. “I think it will be bad for us to start removing our history.”
All of the candidates agreed that something needs to be done about the opioid crisis in Tennessee.
Randy Boyd said opioids are decimating our communities. “We need to declare a state of emergency and appoint a leader.” He believes the state has to do a “better job” of providing people with the right treatment to help fight the opioid crisis.
Bill Lee said he had a family member die of an overdose. He said the state “absolutely” needs to look at mental health to help get a handle on the opioid crisis.
Diane Black said her husband lost two siblings to drug overdose.
“It is a human cost, both to the families and the communities,” said Black. We have to look at the prevention side, the law enforcement side and the recovery side. There’s not a one size fits all.”
The candidates were also asked to describe how Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has impacted them personally.
“I spent the first years of my life in poverty. but I had hope,” said Black, “He gave our nation hope.”
“I stood there and realized that someone had given their life unwittingly, but that his dreams were spread in part because of what happened to him,” said Lee.
Boyd said King influenced his view of helping people in poverty.
“Simply to provide them with a dream, a dream of a better life, and dream of equality.”
Beth Harwell, who is also running for governor, was asked to participate, but she declined because “her legislative duties and responsibilities as Speaker of the House prevent her from doing so.”
Two more live debates are scheduled in Nashville and Knoxville in June and July.
The statewide primary election is August 2, 2018. The general election is November 6.