Statewide gubernatorial debate series held at John Paul II High School

One of the Republican gubernatorial candidates, Bill Lee, holds hands with his wife Maria as they are greeted by supporters following the debate at Pope John Paul II High School. SABRINA GARRETT

The second debate in the statewide Tennessee Governor Debate Series presented by Nexstar Media was held Wednesday, June 20 at John Paul II High School in Hendersonville.

The night featured GOP candidates, Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell, U.S. Congressman Diane Black, former state Commissioner of Economic and Community Development Randy Boyd and businessman Bill Lee.

Leading Democratic candidates, former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and Rep. Craig Fitzhugh debated the previously evening at Belmont University.

The Republican installment lasted one hour and was televised on stations WKRN-TN in Nashville, WATE-TV in Knoxville, WJHL-TV in Johnson City, WATN-TV in Memphis and WJKT-TV in Jackson with journalists from those stations asking questions.

One unique – and timely question – asked candidates how they felt about NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem.

The movement started during the 2016 preseason by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick expressed in an interview with the NFL his kneeling was to protest police brutality and unjust treatment of minorities.

He initially sat during the anthem but switched to kneeling after speaking with a veteran who said that kneeling would be a more respectful way to protest.

Lee said he viewed kneeling during the National Anthem as “absolute disrespect to the flag, absolute disrespect to the anthem, absolute disrespect for every veteran who gave their life for this country.”

He said the flag symbolizes “the founding of this nation, the background of this nation and the future of this nation” and that it was not up for debate or a political symbol.

“Not respecting it is unacceptable,” Lee concluded.

Harwell, second in line on this particular topic, echoed that it was disrespectful.

“There is no doubt in my mind that there are veterans who have fought very hard for us to have the right to peacefully protested, so I respect that, but on the other hand I will say that it is such an image for our young people – that it is wrong. I think out of respect for those who have given their lives and those who serve our country (in the armed forces) they should stand,” she said.

Boyd said he was a Boy Scout master for 17 years and spent a lot of time teaching boys are respecting the flag, respecting their country and how to do a proper flag ceremony.

“I think about these young people (who are watching) their idols disrespecting our flag. I think it is totally wrong and not something I would stand for as governor,” he said.

Black once had season tickets to watch the Tennessee Titans play. To-date, none of the Titans players have knelt during the anthem; however, Black said they let their tickets go and “no longer worry about the NFL on Sunday.”

She said her dad served in World War II, her husband served during the Vietnam War and her son was active in Operation Desert Storm.

“You can tell I come from a family of military. That flag and that national anthem – when we stand and put our hand over our heart and hear that song – it brings tears to my eyes,” she said. “There are men and women, right now, who are sacrificing themselves and their family to be on a battle field out of this country. I cannot imagine any American who would not respect that kind of sacrifice.”

She ended by stating that until the NFL changes their policy, she would not be watching football – instead, she now goes fishing in her spare time with her family.

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