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VOL. 133 | NO. 79 | Thursday, April 19, 2018

Lee, Boyd, Black Talk Confederate Monuments, Oppose Pre-K Expansion

By Bill Dries

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Three of the four major contenders for governor in the Aug. 2 Republican primary disagree with the removal of Confederate monuments from city parks but also disagree with the state legislature’s decision to cut $250,000 of city funding in retaliation.

Republican contenders for Tennessee governor Bill Lee, left, Randy Boyd, center, and Diane Black, right, prepare for the start of Wednesday’s Greater Memphis Chamber forum at the Halloran Centre that was broadcast live statewide. (Daily News/Bill Dries)

Bill Lee, Randy Boyd and Diane Black were featured in the Greater Memphis Chamber Chairman’s Circle forum at the Halloran Centre Downtown on Wednesday, April 18. The debate aired live on TV stations statewide, including WATE Local 24 in Memphis.

“I don’t think it’s right to punish Memphis for that decision,” Black said. “If they want to change the law then they need to close that loophole.”

Black is a former state representative and currently a U.S. representative.

“I think that we have to be very careful about removing monuments because it removes a piece of our history,” Lee said. “Our history teaches us. Our history actually unites us more than it does divide us.”

Lee, a Franklin businessman, described the state’s history as “rich, deep and complicated.”

“I don’t think Memphis did the right thing,” he said. “I don’t think that removing historical monuments is the right approach to solving the problem.”

He also said the difference over the monuments and their removal between city leaders and the legislature should have been resolved and points to the “real need for leadership.”

“We need to preserve our history,” Boyd said. “Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it’s bad. But we always learn from it.”

Boyd is the former Tennessee commissioner of economic and community development.

“Each generation decides to remove a part of history they disagree with, we won’t have a history,” he said. “(But) I don’t think it’s right to punish the city of Memphis.”

He said it was ironic that the house voted to cut funding for the city’s observance of its bicentennial, which would be an observance of the city’s history.

Lee, Boyd and Black also said they do not support universal pre-kindergarten because they aren’t convinced it means better results for students in its current form.

“We lack a true understanding of whether our pre-K in Tennessee is high quality,” Lee said.

Black said studies of pre-kindergarten programs in the state commissioned by Gov. Bill Haslam showed “mixed results” in the impact of pre-K in student achievement up to the third grade.

“I agree the results are mixed,” said Boyd, who said he would like to see pre-K pilot programs to determine a model to be used statewide.

The comments come as city and county governments are committing local funds to be used with private and philanthropic funding to expand pre-kindergarten countywide to 8,500 children over several years. Some of the money will be used to replace a state grant for 1,000 pre-K seats that runs out of the end of the 2019 fiscal year.

Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, was among those on the panel asking questions of the trio. House speaker Beth Harwell did not participate in the debate citing her duties as speaker as the Legislature moves toward adjournment.

Boyd, Black and Lee also each favor arming school teachers although Boyd said it should be voluntary.

“We can’t depend on our children’s safety with teachers being armed,” Boyd said. “We’ve had to do other things.”

He also advocated for better trained school police officers as well as better mental health services, a point Lee and Black also made.

“We protect our banks with firearms,” Lee said. “We protect our courthouses with firearms. We protect our nation and our nation’s leaders with firearms. Yet we leave our children in gun free zones and that doesn’t make sense to me.”

Black said school police officers should have more power to act if they see threats that might lead to violence.

“We should not blame those who are law-abiding gun owners,” she said.

The only sparks among the candidates came as Black, Lee and Boyd all agreed that Memphis and West Tennessee have not gotten a fair share of infrastructure funding from the state.

Black called the disparity in road project funding “Nashville neglect.”

“I believe west Tennessee has been left out by the department of economic and community development,” she said.

Lee also said ECD funding has been lacking for west Tennessee.

“I actually don’t think it deserves the same amount of focus,” he said. “We need to take the resources and actually put more commitment toward those areas that are struggling than those that are doing well.”

Boyd said the disparity is broader than Memphis but applies to all of west Tennessee and vowed to “help them catch up.” He specifically said he would work to complete Interstate 69 and the Memphis part of the expansion of Lamar Avenue.

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