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VOL. 42 | NO. 38 | Friday, September 21, 2018

Dean expresses regret as Lee cancels governor's forum

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NASHVILLE (AP) — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Karl Dean said Thursday that he's disappointed GOP opponent Bill Lee made a surprise cancellation at a forum where the two were set to appear together, but stopped short of accusing the Republican of actively avoiding him.

"It would have been good to have him here, I would like to see him and discuss the issues," Dean told reporters after the event. "One of the good things of having a campaign is that it provides a service to the public in that you get to see the candidates and get to hear their different opinions ... and  that helps formulate how they're going to vote."

However, Dean demurred when asked if he thought Lee was intentionally dodging events where the two would have to share the same stage.

"I wouldn't say that, but you can," said the former Nashville mayor, pointing to reporters and adding he has accepted every invitation so far to events including both him and Lee.

Lee and Dee had committed to appearing at the gubernatorial luncheon earlier this year, but organizers say they were alerted an hour before the event kicked off that Lee had a scheduling conflict in east Tennessee and would be unable to attend.

"This was an unfortunate miscommunication, and we regret not being there for the event," said Laine Arnold, Lee's spokeswoman, in a statement. "We apologize to the organizers and attendees for any error."

Earlier that day, Lee said in a tweet he valued being on the same stage with Dean while wishing the Democrat a happy birthday.

"I appreciate the opportunity to share the stage with you and I hope you get to take a minute from the campaign trail to celebrate today," Lee wrote.

The event was sponsored by Farmers Insurance Group, Middle State Tennessee University and the League of Women Voters. Originally, both gubernatorial candidates were scheduled to participate in Thursday's luncheon and then an evening forum. Yet roughly three weeks earlier, the evening event was spiked after Lee's campaign cited scheduling conflicts.

Lee's abrupt cancellation the day of Thursday's luncheon became the main theme of the event — with speakers apologizing to the packed audience they had not planned for a candidate to unexpectedly drop out and a Q&A portion was limited to just three questions where Dean reiterated his endorsement of expanding Medicaid and improving education across the state.

State Rep. Ron Travis, a Republican from Dayton, was tapped by Lee's campaign to speak on behalf of the candidate. He read a brief statement provided by the Lee campaign but told the audience he wouldn't answer questions on behalf of the candidate.

"Bill Lee is not avoiding anyone. He has a good heart," Travis later told reporters. "This was just an unfortunate misunderstanding."

Lee is chairman of a Franklin mechanical contracting, facilities and home services company. Dean is the former Nashville mayor. They are competing to succeed Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, who is hitting term limits. In October, Lee and Dean will face off in three debates before the November 6 election.

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