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Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Ends Contract With State

Matt Markgraf

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee is no longer contracting with Tennessee, alleviating questions circling him about possible conflicts of interest should he be elected in November.

The Franklin-based Lee Company is owned and chaired by the Republican businessman, who had been the only statewide candidate who had contracts with the state that directly benefited a private business following the August primary.

According to a public records review by The Associated Press, the Lee Company does not have any current contracts with the state after choosing not to renew a sweeping electrical, HVAC and plumbing deal at the end of the August. The Lee Company was one of 21 vendors involved in the estimated $7.25 million maintenance contract. The Lee Company was first awarded the contract in 2015 and had the option to renew until 2020.

The AP has asked the state for invoices on how much the Lee Company collected between 2015 and 2018.

Lee's spokeswoman did not immediately respond to request for comment. The Republican's campaign has repeatedly promised it would cancel any state contracts should Lee win in the November general election.

That promise followed a statement Lee made at a campaign event last year that had him stating he would only stop contracting with the state if required by state law.

"I would guess we would be required to do that. I haven't actually looked into that. I basically went into this thing and said, am I willing to give up state contracts to do this, yes," Lee said. "Will we be required to? I don't know. If we aren't required to, I won't."

It was not immediately clear why Lee chose to preemptively stop contracting with the state before the Nov. 6 election. In a Republican-dominant state, Lee faces an easier chance of securing the open gubernatorial seat than his Democratic opponent and former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean.

State officials say they did not ask Lee to cancel the contract.

Lee's contract had been a source of question among some attorneys and ethics experts about the possible legal logistics of a governor's private business contracting with the state.

According to Tennessee law, it "is unlawful for any officer... whose duty it is to vote for, let out, overlook, or in any manner to superintend any work or any contract in which any municipal corporation, county, state, development district, utility district, human resource agency, or other political subdivision created by statute shall or may be interested, to be directly interested in any such contract."

While governors oversee state agencies, they rarely serve as the final voice who makes the decisions on awarding state contracts.

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