The race for governor is in full swing in Tennessee with early voting ahead of the Aug. 4 primary election.
Statewide, there is a competitive primary for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. Three candidates are vying for the chance to take on incumbent Republican Gov. Bill Lee in the Nov. 8 election. Lee faces no GOP primary opposition.
Memphis community activist Carnita Atwater, Nashville physician Jason Martin and Memphis City Council member JB Smiley, Jr. are competing in the Democratic primary.
Here's what you should know about the candidates.
Democratic candidate Carnita Atwater
Memphis resident Carnita Atwater says she’s been fighting for her community for years, tackling “racial disparities, healthcare disparities, economic equality.” But her activism has taken a new tack as she competes for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in Tennessee's Aug. 4 primary.
“I never viewed myself as a politician," Atwater said. "Even today, I do not view myself as a politician. I look at myself as a community advocate for the people. That’s why my platform is, 'Putting people back into politics.’”
About Carnita Atwater:
Occupation: Community activist, with previous experience in health care and higher education
Defining issue: Political and judicial corruption
Key quote: "I don’t want to be a governor that dictates to people what they need and what they want. If I become governor, you will see me out in all 95 counties."
Democratic candidate Jason Martin
Dr. Jason Martin launched his bid for governor nearly a year ago in response to Lee's inaction around the coronavirus pandemic.
As a director of Hendersonville Medical Center's critical care unit, Martin saw firsthand the devastation of COVID-19. He was a vocal critic of Lee, including signing a letter to urge Lee to mandate masks in business during a deadly winter surge of COVID-19.
Martin has said Lee's response to the pandemic and most of the state's health problems is to "fend for yourself." Martin hopes to make health care a defining issue of his campaign.
Questionnaire: Meet Jason Martin, Democratic candidate for governor
Occupation: ICU doctor. Before running for governor, he was the director of Hendersonville Medical Center's critical care unit.
Defining issue: Health care
Key quote: "Health care is an issue that touches every single county," Martin said. "It's one of the things that unites Tennesseans.
Democratic candidate JB Smiley, Jr.
Memphis City councilman JB Smiley’s campaign for governor — with the slogan “A Better Tennessee” — has focused on standard Democratic issues, support for abortion access, LGBTQ rights and portraying himself as a more tolerant alternative to Republican Gov. Bill Lee.
"It's increasingly, incredibly clear to me that we've all found and are suffering discomfort from the policies and inaction from our government," Smiley said when he announced his run for governor last September. "Tennesseans deserve better. Tennesseans demand better."
Questionnaire: Meet JB Smiley, Democratic candidate for governor
Occupation: Lawyer, Memphis city councilman
Key issue: Discourse
Key quote: "The battle of ideas and being able to openly discuss one’s position is something we should hold dear in this country. However, we are on a dangerous path as we move further away from the realities of life by allowing a group of people in power to essentially ban freethinking, and create a false history that intentionally misconstrues the realities of our past."
Incumbent Republican Gov. Bill Lee
Bill Lee was elected in 2018 to become Tennessee 50th governor as a political outsider with no previous elected office experience. He was the first Republican governor in the state's modern history to succeed a fellow Republican in the office. He has pursued policies on education finance reform, creating an Education Savings Account and enhancing civics education, which were successful. However, his effort to transform Tennessee's version of Medicaid into a block grant program has stalled since the change in presidential administrations from Donald Trump to Joe Biden.
Lee signed into law the American Civics Institute at the University of Tennessee Knoxville on May 12.
"This is an effort that I think is going to be a model for the country," he said. "It's a great opportunity for our students to have access to an education that will provide us insight into the ideas and the institutions that make Tennessee great, that make America great."
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Here are the Tennessee governor candidates for the democratic primary