The governors of Tennessee and Kentucky could show us a new way to do politics

A collaboration between Bill Lee and Andy Beshear in shaping civil discourse could mean a lot to a majority of Americans who don’t feel represented by the extremes in either of their parties.


  • David Plazas is director of opinion and engagement for the USA TODAY Network Tennessee.

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear warned residents against traveling south to Tennessee just a few weeks after the COVID pandemic emerged in the United States.

The Democrat disagreed with his Republican counterpart, Gov. Bill Lee, over coronavirus restrictions and because the Volunteer State’s death toll was three times that of the Bluegrass State at the end of March 2020.

“We have taken very aggressive steps to stop or limit the spread of the coronavirus to protect our people, but our neighbors to the south in many cases are not doing so,” Beshear said, according to a story in The Louisville. Courier Journal, a sister publication of The Tennessean.

Four years later, the pandemic is over, though COVID has lingered, and Beshear comes to Tennessee on a political mission to speak at an event called “Championing Reproductive Freedom” on June 21 and to support his southern neighbor’s near-total abortion ban in the House of Lee to take on. turf.

As unlikely as the odds may sound, it would be a chance for Lee to offer Beshear an olive branch on the issues they agree on. It may sound crazy, but hear me out, because Tennessee’s governor recently opened the door to reaching an agreement with his political opponents.

Can we get Lee and Beshear on stage for a ‘Disagree Better’ convo?

On May 14, Lee spoke onstage at the Omni Hotel in downtown Nashville with fellow Republican Governor Spencer Cox of Utah for the National Governors Association’s “Disagree Better” presentation.

“I’m not an expert on civility, and I don’t understand this any more than a lot of people, but I want it. It’s a big part of what I want to be as a person,” Lee said, according to a report in The Tennessean. “To practice and model this idea of ​​treating people with equal dignity that I think we all share – I think it can be done.”

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Cox, the NGA chairman, has famously touted Disagree Better and given interviews with his Democratic counterpart, Governor Jared Polis of Colorado, about how they can come together on some issues, disagree on others, and still respect each other’s humanity .

Cox and Polis were even guests on the March 27 episode of the “You Might Be Right” podcast, hosted by former Tennessee governors Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, and Bill Haslam, a Republican.

The one missing from the stage with Lee during that NGA presentation was a Democrat with whom he could model thoughtful disagreements and creative ways to find common ground.

I’m calling your neighbor, Andy Beshear.

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Admittedly, some topics may be difficult to discuss, such as abortion policy or former President Donald Trump’s guilty plea on Thursday.

But Polis and Cox said on the podcast that governors from both political parties see common ground on issues such as housing affordability. That includes Tennessee, as well as Kentucky.

Equally important is Ford’s and SK Innovations’ economic development and investments in both Kentucky and Tennessee, which are creating nearly 11,000 jobs and boosting the regions’ economies.

Both governors are national figures who could reduce divisions

Lee and Beshear would be fascinating on stage.

Both are very partisan. Both govern in a state with Republican supermajorities. Both were comfortably re-elected to a second term.

Finally, they are both national figures.

Lee visited the U.S. southern border with other governors who sent members of National Guard units with the aim of providing security assistance to the U.S. Border Patrol. According to citizens surveyed by Gallup, immigration is the most important issue facing the US.

Earlier this year, Beshear formed a political action committee called In This Together to “elect more Democrats in swing states and Republican strongholds,” according to The Associated Press.

There is plenty they can disagree on, and the polarized nature of our politics and the upcoming presidential election are already disruptive and divisive.

That is why their collaboration in shaping civil discourse, respecting and humanizing each other could be a big step forward for a majority of Americans who do not feel represented by the extremes in either parties.

What politeness is and what it isn’t and why it matters

If our elected officials want to talk about civility and respect, they need to model it, not just talk about it.

Nearly seven years ago, The Tennessean launched the Civility Tennessee campaign to promote, model and encourage civil discourse, and its principles have guided our editorial work ever since, from the way we comment on issues to the way we engaging communities in Nashville and across the state. of Tennessee.

Civility is not about resignation, submission, or compromising one’s values. Democracy is messy and can be loud and sometimes critical. However, it is about taking actions and steps that may be uncomfortable, but can lead to finding greater common ground, understanding and forgiveness.

Governors Haslam and Bredesen might consider inviting them to their podcast. Consider this an invitation for Lee and Beshear to appear on mine: Tennessee Voices, which emerged from the COVID pandemic and recently topped 400 episodes.

Since Beshear’s comments in 2020 about avoiding travel to Tennessee, neighbors have spent time getting reacquainted, and it’s a perfect time for a Tennessean and Kentuckian to try to do the same.

David Plazas is director of opinion and engagement for the USA TODAY Network Tennessee. He is a member of the editorial staff of The Tennessean. He hosts the Tennessee Voices videocast and curates the Tennessee Voices and Latino Tennessee Voices newsletters. Call him at (615) 259-8063, email him at [email protected] or find him at @davidplazas.

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