Tennessee Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee will need to be wary over the next few days and weeks because he's likely to find that he's made a number of statements he never made and holds positions he wouldn't dream of holding.
He could ask Hamilton County school board members Rhonda Thurman and Joe Smith how that feels.
Lee, in a gubernatorial forum in Nashville Tuesday night, had the temerity not to give a politically correct answer.
When asked whether students at the Parkland, Fla., high school where a deadly shooting occurred in February have had a positive or negative impact on the conversation about guns and gun control, he probably should have answered "yes." As in, they have had both a positive and negative impact on the conversation.
But Lee, a businessman, chose to say "negative," while his Republican opponents, Randy Boyd and Beth Harwell, and Democrats Karl Dean and Craig Fitzhugh all said the politically correct "positive." Republican Diane Black, who often skips these type of events, was not present.
After the forum and before his answer could be spun, he issued a statement, clarifying his answer but also giving his opponents more ammunition.
"This is common sense: Law-abiding citizens should not be punished for the actions of criminals," Lee said in a statement, assumedly referring to the potential of gun control making it harder for everyone to purchase guns because of the actions of a few people. "These kids have been through a horrible tragedy. But I've been sickened by how the liberal media, the teacher's unions and the far left lobby have used these kids as props to push their anti-gun agenda."
He said what many Tennesseans, and people across the country, are thinking but don't dare voice because of having their words twisted.
Indeed, a Vanderbilt University poll released Thursday bears him out. Of self-identified Republicans who responded to the poll, 74 percent said the protests have had a negative impact on the gun control debate.
But Lee is likely to find himself referred to as a proponent of "all guns all the time," for having no concern for students and as a President Trump clone for calling out the national media.
A few replies to his clarifying tweet suggest what is coming. On Twitter, his use of the phrase "liberal media" is mocked, he is told he lacks "motivation/capacity to develop policy leadership" and he is said to simply be "spewing Faux (Fox) News propaganda."
Thurman and Smith can relate. Their news release a week ago, stating their disagreement with the policies advocated by a nonprofit organization that says it exists to raise community interest in schools, has won them criticism as white supremacists, segregationists, race-baiters, immoral and deplorable.
UnifiEd, the organization with which the school board members disagreed, called their words "unacceptable," "dangerous" and "hateful" in a fundraising email it quickly sent out to capture any ire from supporters over the opinions.
And the two words that have most erroneously been thrown around over the last week are words Thurman and Smith never used: "forced busing."
The news release cited UnifiEd's euphemistic language about a "robust transportation policy," "controlled" school choice models, increased magnet school access and improved transfer policies as ways to further socioeconomically and racially integrate schools.
Thurman, in the release, called the plans "busing to promote integration," which is another way of saying exactly what the organization is advocating. She also referred to the busing that initially integrated local schools in the early 1970s and said "it did not work then, and it will not work now." She never used the words "forced busing."
Smith, in the release, said nothing about busing but claimed UnifiEd "doesn't represent what the people of District 3 believe."
What Smith, Thurman, other county commissioners and school board members, and the public should remember is that the community organization is only that. UnifiEd's beliefs, though it claims community input, are its own. Whatever the organization recommends that the Hamilton County Board of Education do is only that — a recommendation, although we wonder what obligations board members and candidates will feel toward supporting the organization's recommendations if its political action committee donated to their campaigns.
Remember, too, that the school district already is working on plans that could involve open enrollment (which Thurman and Smith support), has unveiled open-enrollment Future Ready Institutes and has created an equity task force.
Nevertheless, it's a shame that office-holders and potential office-holders cannot give their opinions today without having them spun, turned around, misstated and mischaracterized. It's enough to keep many good people from running for office. Thankfully, some are willing to take on the task.