Dean, Lee share lessons learned in life and on the campaign trail

Zach Vance • Oct 20, 2018 at 10:58 PM

When asked what had been their greatest failures, either professionally or personally, both Tennessee gubernatorial candidates paused a moment before offering two distinctly different answers.

Democratic nominee Karl Dean and Republican nominee Bill Lee answered the question in separate conference call with Johnson City Press editors and reporters as early voting got underway in the race to succeed Bill Haslam as the state’s governor, following up on the debate the Press sponsored with the Kingsport Times News on Oct. 9.

The conversations included the lessons they’d learned along the campaign trail, including insights into their different approaches to the state’s health care dilemma, hospital solvency and extending insurance coverage to more Tennesseans.

And when asked to address their greatest failures and what they had learned from them, the two men candidly answered.

For Lee, the answer was his daughter’s attempt on her life 18 months after her mother and Lee’s first wife, Carol Ann, died after a horse-riding accident.

“As a parent, not seeing that coming ... in light of some of the red flags that presented themselves in the months prior to that incident and the way that I dealt with a teenager that I didn't understand was on the verge of crisis was the greatest failure I've had in my life, either as a parent and probably as a person, to not be able to empathetically understand just what it was and to listen to what she was trying to say to me.”

Lee’s daughter ultimately survived, but the experience obviously had a lasting impact on Lee and his outlook on life.

“What it has done for me, as I've done a lot of reflection in the 17 years since that happened and what it caused me to be, is a person who listens intently when someone is trying to tell me about something that I don't understand, whether it's a kid in the inner-city who lives a life I don't or regardless of who it is,” Lee said.

“If it's someone I want to understand, I've made a real effort in my life in the last many years, in part as a result of that failure to listen, to be a person who listens more intently and who really desires to understand those who understand things I don't.”

When posed with the same question, Dean reminisced about his time serving as Nashville of mayor between 2007 and 2015.

“There are a variety of things I wanted to accomplish as mayor that I was not successful in doing. I don't know how you'd apportion the reasons for the lack of success, but some of it would certainly be charged to me,” Dean said.

“I always feel frustrated when I'm not able to accomplish something because I think somehow I missed something or didn't communicate adequately or didn't have the right approach.”

Specifically, Dean said the failure of his proposed $174 million transit plan for Nashville, called The Amp, was on the list of “failures.”

“I've clearly had things such as transit that I wanted to get done, with lots of opposition to it. It was hard, and really the state (was) working against us. But that, to me, was something the city really needed. It would have been good for the city, and we had the federal money lined up. Whether the failure was all mine or others too, I'd certainly list that as one,” Dean said.

“I learned a lot from that though, too. I'd say what I've learned from that is the states got to play a leadership role in transit. The state can't sit passively by or let special interest groups in the legislature drive the agenda.”

Early voting ends Nov. 1. Election Day is Nov. 6.

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