Gubernatorial candidates Republican Bill Lee and Democrat Karl Dean discussed issues, ranging from the death penalty, which was the first question out of the gate at the last gubernatorial debate at Belmont University, to health care, education, infrastructure funding and poverty. Dean was a former professor at the university. Lee, former president of Lee Company and a cattle farmer, operates Triple L Ranch in Williamson County Both agreed education and good jobs are the way out of poverty for Tennesseans. Lee added that vocational education has been "widely ignored" in the state but is a viable option to get students on a “pathway to success” to find jobs right out of school. And both said decisions regarding the imposition of the death penalty should be left up to the judicial system. Dean continued to voice support of Medicaid expansion, saying the available funding should be used to provide healthcare to the 300,000 Tennesseeans who are currently uninsured, saying the issue as one of his top priorities. “People are hurting right now," Dean said. "And talking about putting this off for 15 or 20 years to study it, is the wrong approach.” The Tennessee legislature in recent years has said no to coverage for low-income residents. “What I would have to do is work with the legislature and say, ‘let’s compromise; let’s work together and find solutions.” Lee said the current system in health care, is broken. "Expanding the broken system is not the right solution for Tennessee,” Lee said. “We have a fundamentally broken and flawed system that doesn’t address the rising costs of healthcare.” Lee went on to say he would develop a system of incentives to lower the cost of health care. He said he’d incentivize families to seek care from a primary care physician instead of going to the emergency room, which he said would be much more cost effective. “There’s no incentive to take that child to a primary care physician,” Lee said. The candidates also discussed the issue of legalized medical marijuana. Argued Lee, "The data is not substantive enough to show the effects of medical marijuana." But he said, if data shows beneficial and safe success in patients and if state residents want it, he would consider supporting medical marijuana. “I would sign a bill for medical marijuana,” responded Dean. “It would alleviate pain and the government should not stand in the way.” But Dean emphasized he is opposed to the recreational use of marijuana but supports decreased sentences for petty crimes involving marijuana. “I don’t want to see someone [who is caught smoking] one marijuana cigarette, not being able to find a job and can’t find housing,” Dean argued. Both candidates called road infrastructure a top issue in the state of Tennessee. Even with the recent state gas tax increase with the purpose of funding $12 billion backlogged road projects, funding still might not be enough to plan for future growth and increased traffic as the state grows to a population of more than 1 million people over the next 15 to 20 years. Dean said he would consider raising the gas tax again if needed, but Lee rejected the idea of increasing the gas tax again. Lee said his firm has 600 cars on the road, and suggested that tax hikes would be difficult for both businesses and drivers. “Relying on fuel taxes is not enough,” he said.
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Lee sworn in as governor
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