re-election campaign

Lee administration giving conservative activists jump on public releases

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters outside the War Memorial Auditorium in Nashville on Jan. 19, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Want to know what Gov. Bill Lee’s administration is up to before the general public? Find a way to get on the mailing list of the Republican’s external affairs director. That’s not to be confused with the governor’s communications office, which handles traditional media releases and the likes.

Lee’s External Affairs Director Joseph Williams last week emailed activists to inform them about “a key conservative priority” by the governor to ban China-backed Confucius Institutes at public universities and require transparency for other foreign gifts and investments. The correspondence included a copy of a press release that would be sent out the public and media two hours later.

Here’s the email:

From: Joseph Williams
Subject: Governor Lee’s Transparency In Foreign Investment Act
Date: March 16, 2021 at 12:08:45 PM CDT

Friends,
The Governor wanted y’all to get news on this before we issue a press release. This continues to be a key conservative priority moving forward.
Let me know if you have any follow-up questions. Best,
Joseph  

Joseph Williams| Director of External Affairs

One recipient was thrilled to hear it, encouraging like-minded folks to send Williams an “attaboy for a job well done,” especially given past policy differences with Lee over COVID-19 mitigation, the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust at the Capitol, and Black Lives Matter protests in Nashville.

Lee appears to be have ramped up his partisan rhetoric in advance of next year’s re-election campaign, but his use of government resources to reach out to potential voters is raising eyebrows among political observers.