Did Lee’s State of the State speech set a modern record at 57 minutes?

Senate Finance Chairman Bo Watson (R-Chattanooga) and others check their watches awaiting the time for Gov. Bill Lee, right, to enter the House chamber to deliver his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s first State of the State address clocked in at 57 minutes last night, leading to speculation about whether it set a record for length. Our deep-dive into the newspaper archives doesn’t provide a conclusive answer, but most examples we found have been much shorter.

Frank Clement, who was governor for 10 years in the 1950s and 1960s, is best-known for an evangelical oratorical style that culminated in his keynote address to Democratic presidential convention in 1956, which he punctuated with the phrase “How long, America, O how long?” The audience loved it, but the speech was panned by pundits. And the 43-minute speech came to be seen as ending Clement’s national political aspirations.

Clement’s State of the State addresses (which were then delivered to the Tennessee Press Association’s annual convention) tended to run between 1,500 and 2,000 words, or about 12 to 15 minutes, as prepared. Ad libs and asides would cause those speeches to expand to about 20 to 35 minutes on delivery.

Scandal-plagued Democratic Gov. Ray Blanton tended to keep his speeches to lawmakers to about 30 minutes, including the final one he delivered just days before he was deposed in favor of Gov.-elect Lamar Alexander in 1979.

Republican Gov. Don Sundquist spent 30-minutes in his 1999 State of the State speech that stunned lawmakers by calling for the sales tax on groceries to be eliminated while launching an overhaul on other state taxes. Many saw it as the first step toward an income tax proposal, which turned out to be right.

Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen spoke for just 18 minutes in his 2004 State of the State speech.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s first State of the State address was 34 minutes in 2011. In 2014 and 2015, Haslam spoke for 40 minutes. But by 2016 he was back down to 30 minutes, a mark he hit again in his final State of the State last year.

Lee’s speech as prepared for delivery was 5,994 words long.

19 Responses to Did Lee’s State of the State speech set a modern record at 57 minutes?

  • Leslie Parsley says:

    Less is more.

  • Diana Page says:

    Please tell me that he is not using an increase in teachers’ pay to bargain for school vouchers.

  • Eddie White says:

    I would recommend to preachers and politicians that 20 minutes is about right. Hard for the brain to endure much more than the rear end. Now on to vouchers. James, where in the Constitution does it give the government the right to issue vouchers to pay for public education?

    • Stuart I. Anderson says:

      The federal constitution does not give the federal government the right to issue such vouchers. The state constitution may place the burden on the state to furnish an education to citizens of this state but I’m almost certain that it doesn’t place the burden on the state to actually operate the schools does it?

    • Perry Aubric says:

      Vouchers probably wouldn’t be used to pay for public education. They would be used to pay for tuition to private schools. On its face, it seems like a violation of the State Constitution.

    • James White says:

      Federal Government involvement with education is unconstitutional. I am sure the State take Federal Dollars, so the Feds Rule. That’s why we have common core, or whatever the state renamed it.

  • Donna Locke says:

    There are soooo many reasons why the idea of school vouchers should be rejected. I could go down the list, but folks can look it up. Yes, Americans, you have allowed the destruction of your public school system. Throwing money at the schools, and vouchers at parents, will not fix the situation now.

    What works for students, as the research of even liberal think tanks has shown, are public schools with the right mix of economic status in the student population. The right mix to pull economically disadvantaged students forward has been shown to be a school population with a majority of middle and higher income families and a minority of students from low-income families. We used to have this in our schools, or at least a more diverse mix that served to advance the students overall, though those on the higher-achievement end tended to suffer if the ratio of those on the lower end was too high and resulted in a lowering of standards.

    Fear of lower standards and of short shrift for their own kids, along with changing neighborhoods and, increasingly, safety fears, led the able to flee public schools for private ones. Unchecked mass immigration and the consequent flooding of our public schools with non-English-speaking kids played a major role in all this. Our traditional national assimilation model was defeated. Immigration numbers got too high, with no periods of rest in the flow to allow absorption without burden.

    I went to public school. So did my kids. My grandchildren are there. My husband spent 42 years educating very diverse populations of kids in public schools. The mess we have now won’t be solved until we can encourage and get the beneficial ratios in our schools again. I can tell you this will not happen under current immigration policy, for one factor.

    • Donna Locke says:

      Think of it as a quantum thing.

      • MarLE says:

        Taxpayer funding of public education should be for EDUCATION, not social engineering. If education suffers then the something needs to change. Not every person is cut out to be a police officer or a psychiatrist , or a behavioral specialists. And not every teacher is equipped to handle students who are disruptive and have no motivation to learn. Move those students into a learning situation with teachers who have the skills and temperament to work with such students. Until that happens let those who wish to learn escape the “educational desert” that some schools have become with vouchers.

  • Eddie White says:

    I agree that social engineering has become part of our curriculum and that is regrettable. It is so important that we elect school board members that reflect the values of the local community and not be a rubber stamp for educators and administrators. However, I will continue to support public education until someone can demonstrate how all children will have the opportunity for a quality education and not just the rich. I think that comes under “for the common good”.

  • MarLE says:

    It is not in the public good that students who want to learn are slowed down or Shut down by those who are not the least bit interested in an education. By whatever means possible I am rooting for their escape!

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