Tennessee doctor launches 2022 gubernatorial bid

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Physician Jason Martin on Monday announced that he’s running as a Democrat for governor in 2022, arguing that incumbent Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic prompted him to jump in the race.

“As a critical care physician, I took an oath to ‘do no harm,’” Martin, 46, said in a statement. “Right now, there are too many politicians out there like Gov. Lee doing more harm than good for the people of Tennessee, and I’m running to change that.”

Martin has been a vocal critic of Lee over the past year as the state has navigated the ongoing surges of the coronavirus throughout Tennessee.

As Lee resisted calls to implement a statewide mask mandate last year, Martin was among the various medical experts who pleaded with the governor to reconsider. The doctor often pointed to the COVID-19 patients he regularly treated to express just how extreme the pandemic has affected the state’s hospitals and health care system.

Instead, Lee left the decision up to county leaders to decide whether or not to implement mask mandates. This led to a hodgepodge of mask rules across the state before many were lifted as the COVID-19 vaccine became widely available, and Lee eliminated most counties’ ability to issue broad mask mandates in public places.

Most recently, Lee sparked criticism from Democratic leaders and health officials when he signed an executive order last week letting parents opt their children out of coronavirus-related mask mandates in K-12 schools.

“My experience as a doctor in cities and rural communities has made it abundantly clear to me that Tennessee’s health care system is incompetent, our economy isn’t supporting people to afford their families’ needs, and Gov. Bill Lee is failing our students,” said Martin, who is running as a first-time political candidate.

Lee won the gubernatorial seat in 2018 against Democratic candidate and former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean. Lee has said he’s running for reelection and currently only faces one other GOP candidate — Curtis Carney, owner of the Nashville-based Off The Wagon Tours.

Republicans have held the Tennessee gubernatorial seat since 2012. Republicans also control both Tennessee U.S. Senate seats, the majority of the congressional districts and have a supermajority in both chambers of the General Assembly.

Other Democratic candidates vying for the Democratic nomination include Carnita Atwater, a New Chicago community leader in Memphis, and Casey Nicholson, an ordained minister from Greenville.