Race for Tennessee Governor: A Good Education Platform Is Hard to Find

The magic didn’t happen. I fully expected to enter the doors of the event center on the beautiful Belmont University campus, take my general admission seat, hear from five well-spoken, overprepared candidates for governor in the great state of Tennessee and exit the campus with the satisfaction of having met my edu-political soulmate. Alas, the magic eluded me.

Political Tinder-ing

Though I’ve not participated in the dating world for some time, I understand the importance of knowing yourself and setting expectations of who you want in a mate before adding someone to your life. This is how I approached last night’s candidate forum. My convictions are very solidly literacy, educational equity, and quality school choice. There is no negotiation. No massaging. No watering down. And because I know who I am and my expectations of a governor, I remain a woman without a candidate.

The format of the event was a forum and not a debate so there was no cause for rebuttal or need to dig deep for authenticity or innovative solutions. Only five of seven candidates participated, two Democrats and three Republicans, and one woman (two women were no-shows). The questions covered safety, achievement gaps, charter schools, pre-k, DACA, teacher pay and evaluation, career and technical education, college readiness and funding.

As I mentioned in a post yesterday leading up to the forum, education, to me, is a non-partisan issue. So it was extremely disappointing to watch the candidates verbally dance along party lines.

A Good Education Platform is Hard to Find

I’m a simple girl. I’m looking for only THREE things in my next governor. See below:

We have a literacy crisis in Tennessee

Recognize that tens of thousands of students across Tennessee are falling through the cracks and we’re moving on without them as we focus on five to ten-year goals. Listen to the current commissioner of education Candice McQueen when she says literacy is the civil rights issues of our time.

Poor and Children of Color Also Deserve an Excellent Education 

If a candidate is not afraid to say this under the lights on a statewide stage such as this, I’m happy to throw my support behind him or her.

Offering more choice is not optional

In a state with a literacy crisis and the academic performances of poor and children of color are criminally lower than white and middle-class students, we are morally obligated to add options that blast the status quo and flip the narrative.

Pardon the analogy from someone who hasn’t dated in the current century, but if last night’s candidates appeared in a dating app, I’d still be swiping left like crazy. However, there were moments, good and not so good, that are still with me.


The first and strongest comment on literacy came from State Rep. Craig Fitzhugh (D) in his first statement of the evening. Channeling small-town West Tennessee, the folksy Rep. Fitzhugh advocated for the urgency to get it right in reading, “experts call it literacy, but I say reading!” Others touched on literacy throughout the night, but the gentleman from east of Memphis gets credit for at least acknowledging the crisis.

Educational Equity for Poor and Children of Color

Swiping Left. Overall, I was not impressed. However, I am eternally grateful to former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean (D) for boldly standing up for DREAMers following the brutal response by GOP candidate Bill Lee commenting on the unfairness of paying in-state tuition to “illegals” over Tennesseans who were born here. Mayor Dean’s “they are Tennesseans” remark provided immediate relief for those of us stunned and stung by Lee’s ill-advised declaration.

More Quality Choices

  • Charters

Republican candidate State Rep. Beth Harwell likes charters but not crazy about adding more schools. Businessman Bill Lee believes parents should make the best choice for their child but is not so much a fan of charter schools as he is good schools. Mayor Karl Dean has a record of not only supporting charters but sponsoring a charter school incubator, but if you didn’t already have that bit information, you’d think the mayor’s singular concern is teachers. Yes, teachers need the attention, primarily because of the 999,000 Tennessee public school students in need of well-prepared, well-paid, consistently trained caring professionals to pour into them day in and day out.

  • Pre-K

The Democrat candidates want universal pre-k. Republican candidates want quality over quantity.

Process of Elimination

So, while a few candidates said things I agree with, none of the candidates gave me goosebumps, or in today’s dating world terms — there was no swiping right. However, thanks to this forum the process of elimination has begun.

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m as opened to Republicans as I am Democrats yet I still went home without a candidate. I might not be clear on who will get my vote, but I now own a list of who won’t. So, even though some have made their way onto that list, I’d like to offer advice for future reference:

  1. Show up!
  2. Ban from your vocabulary (and your heart) “at-risk”, “underprivileged” and “illegals”.
  3. Don’t use a child as your platform mascot.
  4. Be authentic, but also learn from Bill Lee.

I had hoped the magic would find me at the forum this week, but I’m hopeful that the candidate of my dreams will emerge, even if it’s after the primary.

BTW– I worked hard to live-tweet the forum – something I could have done from the comfort of my couch, but I’m grateful to have attended the event.



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