state of the state

Lee speech shorter, but hardly short

Frequently used terms in Gov. Bill Lee’s three State of the State addresses (via MonkeyLearn)

Bill Lee’s third State of the State address clocked in at 42 minutes on Monday evening. That was still on the long side of budget addresses for Tennessee governors, but a good deal shorter than his previous two speeches.

Lee’s first State of the State in 2019 was 5,994 words long and lasted 57 minutes. Last year’s address came in at 5,493 words. But this year’s speech totaled 4,506 words as prepared for delivery.

For some historical perspective of State of the State speeches, see this TNJ: On the Hill analysis of a couple years ago:

A word cloud analysis processed through MonkeyLearn reveals Lee’s most frequently used terms over her his last three speeches:

  1. State (162 times)
  2. Tennessee/Tennessean (157 times)
  3. Year (126 times)
  4. School (71 times)
  5. Students (57 times)
  6. Teachers (56 times)
  7. Budget (43 times)
  8. Dollars (36 times)
  9. Investment (33 times)
  10. Health care (15 times)

Full text of Gov. Bill Lee’s State of the State address

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Here is Gov. Bill Lee’s third State of the State address, as prepared for delivery on Monday evening:

Lieutenant Governor McNally, Speaker Sexton, Speaker Pro Tem Haile, Speaker Pro Tem Marsh, Members of the 112th General Assembly, Justices, Constitutional Officers, fellow Tennesseans:

I would also like to acknowledge the First Lady who is in the audience.
Maria serves our state with genuine compassion and is my partner in every aspect of this role.

I love you and am proud that you are ours.

I also share my gratitude to members of my Cabinet and staff who are here tonight.

Each of these men and women have committed to lives of service and honor.

They are battle-tested and I am proud of their work and their friendship.
Members of the General Assembly, let me say that it’s good to be here in person.

Last year, we stood together at the starting line of 2020 ready for a challenge and even more ready to leave our mark on what was sure to be a historic year for our state.

The events that would take place just a few weeks after, would set the tone for our year.

An unimaginable one for us that included the rise of a global pandemic, devastating tornadoes, flooding, violence, unrest, economic collapse, a downtown explosion and witnessing our nation undergo painful turmoil at the highest levels of government.

There have been heartbreaking losses.

We mourn the more than 10,000 Tennesseans we have lost in those deadly events this year.

In many respects, what was optimism has become a tempered feeling of resolve, and perhaps even cautiousness about what lies ahead in 2021 as we move forward but work to make sense of it all.

Scripture has a lot to say about that crossroads and what to do on the heels of suffering.

Where do we find the promise in this season?

The promise is found in perseverance, which produces character that leads to hope.

Tennesseans will know tonight that tragedy has no hold on who we are or where we are headed.

Tragedy will not define us and will not rob us of the opportunity that 2021 holds.

In fact, this year holds its own unique place for our state as we celebrate 225 years of statehood.

Since 1796, our state has been the portrait of perseverance, character and hope because of everyday heroes.

Ordinary Tennesseans are more than constituents – they are the strength of our state and the lifeblood of our country.

From early settlers, the farmers and factory workers, teachers and tradesmen, doctors and pastors.

We will celebrate that since 1796 the ordinary has made us extraordinary and remember that generations before us have not just weathered but excelled in the cycle of perseverance, character and hope.

I will once again travel to all 95 counties to reach the unsung people and places that make our state who she is.

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Effort falls short to designate site of State of State as House chamber for a night (UPDATED)

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Senate passed a resolution seeking to remedy legal questions raised by The Tennessee Journal about holding the annual State of the State address outside the state Capitol, but the House didn’t take the measure up before the speech took place.

Under a 1970s-era law, the governor’s annual budget address must be given to a joint convention of the General Assembly in the House chamber. But Gov. Bill Lee gave his speech within the nearby War Memorial Auditorium on Monday evening.

While the War Memorial Auditorium is part of the Capitol complex and offers more space for social distancing, it does not meet the description of the House chamber. The Senate passed SJR100, which would have declared that “that for the sole purpose of hearing the state of the state address by the governor on February 8, 2021, the War Memorial Auditorium shall serve as ‘the chamber of the house of representatives.'”

But the House didn’t take up the measure before heading across the street to hear from the governor.

Gov. Lee’s annual State of the State won’t be held in the state Capitol. But is that legal?

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his second State of the State address in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

In the interest of social distancing, tonight’s State of the State address has been relocated to the War Memorial Auditorium. There’s just one problem: State law requires the annual address to be given inside the state Capitol.

A 1973 newspaper ad.

Governors used to deliver their annual State of the State speeches to the Tennessee Press Association. Lawmakers didn’t like that arrangement, so they changed the law in the 1970s to require the speech to be given before a joint convention of the General Assembly gathered in the House chamber.

It’s not the first time Gov. Bill Lee’s plans for the State of the State have raised questions. Following his 2018 election, Lee announced he’d try to get out of the “bubble of Nashville” by delivering the annual address at various locations around the state.

Those plans were thwarted by the same state law requiring the speech to be given in the state Capitol, the Associated Press reported at the time.

“Bill will give the State of the State speech in the House Chamber each year as mandated by the statute,” a Lee spokeswoman told the AP in 2018. “But he also plans to give addresses outside of Nashville around the State of the State to engage with Tennesseans.”

UPDATE: Lawmakers point to a joint resolution passed by both chambers on voice votes in January that said the House and Senate would meet “in the War Memorial Auditorium for the purpose of hearing the State of the State address by the Honorable Bill Lee, Governor of Tennessee.”

But the state law says the General Assembly “shall” call a joint convention “to convene in the chamber of the House of Representatives.” Whether the statute gives lawmakers the leeway to call a meeting outside of the House chamber is a matter of interpretation.

Lee gives preview to annual budget address

Gov. Bill Lee is giving a preview to his annual State of the State address in a video released Monday morning.

Democrats on Friday made their prebuttal, which can be viewed here:

Here are some excerpts from Lee’s speech issued from a press release sent Monday:

Budget and Legislative Priorities

“We have conservative proposals for your consideration that will reduce crime, support strong families and get our economy back up to speed, especially in rural Tennessee. Our proposals honor the individual yet benefit the state as a whole, and they will leave us well-positioned for the recovery that has already begun across our state.”

Celebrating 225 Years of Statehood

“We will celebrate that since 1796 the ordinary has made us extraordinary and remember that generations before us have not just weathered but excelled in the cycle of perseverance, character and hope. I will once again travel to all 95 counties to reach the unsung people and places that make our state who she is.”

Vision for K-12 Education

“The reason we place so much focus on education is because students should be prepared for productive lives, not just the latest standardized test. I recently had a conversation with Commissioner Schwinn that the mission of the Department of Education should be simple: Students should be prepared for life beyond the classroom.”

Rural Investment

“Whether it’s running a small business, accessing virtual learning or accessing health care via telemedicine, slow internet speeds have many in rural Tennessee left at a disadvantage. A significant, one-time investment, combined with significant private investment, will get broadband to just about every community in Tennessee, and tonight, that’s exactly what I’m proposing.”

Pro-Life & Pro-Family

“But being pro-life isn’t just about defending the unborn and we must also think about how to use our passion for this issue to improve the lives of struggling families. My administration is preparing a number of new initiatives that we’ll announce throughout the year that will make Tennessee a national leader in foster care and adoption.”

Lee’s $40.8B budget proposal in the media

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his second State of the State address in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Here’s a look at how Gov. Bill Lee’s second State of the State address played in the state media:

Chattanooga Times Free Press:

Lee, whose wife Maria is a former teacher, zeroed in on education during much of his speech, noting that “in this building, we work hard to develop student-centered education policies, but out there in the classrooms is where it happens. We make it law, but teachers make it happen.”

Daily Memphian:

Saying the “majority” of the state’s efforts must focus on traditional public schools, Lee said he is putting a $117 million increase into teacher and educator salaries, a 4% pay increase designed to push starting teacher pay to $38,000 a year.

“We make it law, but teachers make it happen,” Lee said. “No teacher I know does it only for the money, but you and I know a worker is worthy of their pay.”

Associated Press

Education advocates caution that even with a $117 million boost, it may not be enough to help teacher salaries.

“While that is a large yearly increase, it breaks down to about $1,450 per teacher, or approximately $28 a week,” said Beth Brown, president of the Tennessee Education Association, when talking about the state’s approximately 80,000 instructional staffers.

WPLN-FM

Criminal justice reform was among some issues notably lacking details. Lee, who has been an advocate, had hinted in the past that he’d focus on reforming the state’s criminal justice system. Lee said that based on recommendations made by the Criminal Justice Investment Task Force, he will propose legislation that improves community supervision and expand recovery courts.

The Tennessean:

Overall, the mood inside the House chamber was jovial, with Republicans praising Lee’s assessment and vision for Tennessee. Democrats later criticized the governor for doing too little, too late on issues like education funding and criminal justice reform.

With a proposed $40.8 billion budget, Lee’s most significant plans for the year include notable increases in public school teacher pay and the creation of the new endowment fund.

Nashville Scene:

Helping partially fulfill another Republican priority, Lee said he wants to cut the professional privilege tax from $400 to $200. In 2019, lawmakers and the governor teamed to reduce the number of professions subject to the tax. The $200 reduction in the tax — still applied to money managers, lawyers and other professionals — will cost the state $40 million.  Lee called the privilege tax “arbitrary and unfair.”

And for good measure, Tennessean reporter Natalie Allison and photog George Walker teamed up for this gem: A photo of Rep. Kent Calfee swigging from a chocolate syrup bottle on the House floor while clutching crackers in his other hand. The bottle is a favorite prop of the Lenoir Republican, who claims to drink water out of it to amuse his grandchildren. Allison’s tweet had received nearly 10,000 likes by Tuesday morning and 2,700 retweets.

The photo also ran on the front pages of the print editions of The Tennessean and the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Here’s a preview of Gov. Bill Lee’s State of the State address

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee gives his second State of the State address on Monday evening. Here are some early excerpts of the speech on the topics of the economy, education, and criminal justice reform:

Economy:

“In 2019, we were for the first time named the #1 best fiscally managed state in the country. We’ve been named as the best business climate in the country. We’re #1 in the U.S. for advanced industry job growth and the best state for small business growth. In the past year, this state has garnered 108 project commitments to create 16,500 jobs and $3.6 billion of capital investment in Tennessee. And while we still have more work to do on rural economic development, I’m also proud that more than half of these projects have been announced in rural counties.”

Education:

“Make no mistake: we will do whatever it takes to make Tennessee the best state in America to be a student, and that means making Tennessee the best state in America to be a teacher. That means better pay, as we’ve said, but it also means better training and professional support, so that our teachers can perform at the top of their trade.”

“Literacy is the foundation for a student’s educational journey. And if we can’t get early childhood literacy back on track, our other investments and work in education will always be limited.”

“No teacher I know does it only for the money, but you and I know a worker is worthy of their pay. Teaching is a calling. We know it is passion that brings teachers to the classroom, but we also know our teachers deserve to be paid more for the important work they do.”

“To me, education isn’t just about a test score. Assessments are valuable tools, but if the adults in education are doing their job correctly, they won’t just see academic statistics improve, they’ll see the most important stat of all improve: That our students are prepared to become productive members of society, whether that’s entering the workforce, attending college, or earning a high-quality industry credential.”

Criminal Justice Reform:

“We’re making these investments because, as our state’s elected leaders, we must remain aware of serving every part and every person of our state. That’s why I’ve made criminal justice reform such a large priority, because every person in Tennessee wants and deserves to live in a safe neighborhood. When properly implemented, criminal justice reforms save taxpayer dollars, shrink the size of government, properly punish wrongdoers, and make our communities safer.”

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.

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Here is your State of the State gallery

Here is a gallery of photos from Gov. Bill Lee’s first State of the State address on Monday evening.

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Senate Democratic Caucus Chairwoman Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis) takes a selfie with colleagues and Gov. Bill Lee before the start of the State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee awaits his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee walks up the stairs to deliver his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee and legislators wait to enter the House chamber for the State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

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)

House and Senate leaders read along to Gov. Bill Lee’s first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bobby Rolfe and Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn applaud Gov. Bill Lee’s first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland) makes an announcement before Gov. Bill Lee’s first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Senate Clerk Russell Humphrey, left, helps fix a microphone for Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), center, and House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) before Gov. Bill Lee’s first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Finance Commissioner Stuart McWhorter, right, and Deputy to the Governor Lang Wiseman confer before Gov. Bill Lee’s first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Sen. Becky Duncan Massey (R-Knoxville) awaits Gov. Bill Lee’s first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Rep. Ron Travis (R-Dayton) confers with colleagues before Gov. Bill Lee’s first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) checks his phone as he awaits the joint convention to hear Gov. Bill Lee’s first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Read Gov. Bill Lee’s first State of the State address

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Governor Bill Lee’s first State of the State address, as prepared for delivery on Monday evening:

Lieutenant Governor McNally, Speaker Casada, Speaker Pro Tem Haile, Speaker Pro Tem Dunn, Members of the 111th General Assembly, Justices, Constitutional Officers, friends, guests, fellow Tennesseans:

Tennessee’s voters and its constitution have given me the responsibility of delivering this address evaluating where we are as a state and recommending action to make us even better.

I am grateful for this opportunity to serve, and it is my high honor to be here tonight. There’s a scripture that encourages us to consider others as more important than ourselves.

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