Prominent Education Lobbyist Jumps Into GOP House Primary Race

The lobbyist for the Tennessee School Boards Association, who played a central role in last year’s GOP-driven education reforms, is challenging an incumbent in this year’s Republican primary election.

Lee Harrell of White House will square off against state Rep. Joshua Evans, a two-term Republican from Greenbrier and small business owner. The district follows the lines of Robertson County north of Nashville. There are no Democratic candidates in the race so the winner in the primary will go on to represent District 66.

“Anytime you go against someone who is there, who is established, who has the name recognition, it’s an uphill battle,” said Harrell, who’ll continue to lobby the Legislature for the TSBA this session until lawmakers head back to their districts in the next few weeks.

“I certainly don’t expect anyone in the caucus to come out publicly and support me or to go against an incumbent. I’ve accepted that,” he said.

Harrell was a key combatant on a highly partisan political battlefield last year as the newly empowered GOP majority drove into law several major education reforms. A central element of the overhaul gutted the power of the teacher unions by rescinding a 1970s-era law that mandated elected school board officials engage in binding collective bargaining negotiations with local chapters of the Tennessee Education Association in order to hammer out teacher contracts.

Harrell said that while he regards education as his strong suit, he’s a well-rounded candidate and a Capitol insider, able to effectively communicate and negotiate across party lines and with people from various backgrounds and interests.

“I know all the players, the lobbyists, staffers, the legislators,” Harrell said. “I feel like with that background at this point in my life, I’m at a situation where I can stop, run for office, use my background, use those relationships and connections to give back to the people of Robertson County.”

The primary election will be held Aug. 2.