In Tuesday’s KnoxTnToday, Patti Bounds told the world that she will run in the 2020 Republican Primary for the District 16 state House seat held by 12-term incumbent Bill Dunn.
On Thursday, Dunn announced that he’s accomplished what he set out to do and will not seek a 13th term.
Rumors had been circulating for months that he was considering not running for reelection. He’d gotten at least a piece of his heart’s desire when he finally saw his school voucher bill and a “heartbeat” bill to restrict abortion rights signed into law this year. The voucher bill was considerably watered-down, and he hasn’t yet managed to do away with early childhood education, but as Meatloaf said, two out of three ain’t bad. And as Mick Jagger warned, you can’t always get what you want – but if you try sometime, you get what you need.
We’ll probably never know exactly why Dunn – who became speaker pro-tem when Glen Casada was elevated to speaker, and interim speaker for a hot minute when Casada lost his gavel – was moved to announce that he’d had enough.
But one thing is pretty clear. The school voucher bill he’d sponsored for eight years running and finally gotten over the finish line this year is snakebit. It has tainted just about everyone it’s touched. Just ask former Speaker Casada, who is now under investigation over a number of allegations, including one that somebody offered a legislator who is in the National Guard a promotion to general if he’d vote yes.
Dunn has not been implicated in any alleged criminal acts, but it was his bill (which was amended to affect only three districts in Memphis and Nashville) that caused the conflagration.
Taking on an entrenched incumbent is a daunting prospect, and Bounds, who has been signaling her interest in the District 16 seat for months, says that Dunn’s Education Savings Account bill is what made her finally to move from thinking to doing.
She’s a five-year school board member and former chair of that body, a retired kindergarten/first grade teacher and a tireless defender of public education, although she says she defends a parent’s right to choose private school. She just doesn’t want taxpayer money channeled into private hands.
She and husband Tommy have four grown children and 14 grandchildren. She’s well known in her community – her former kindergartners get letters of congratulation when they graduate from high school – and she is a staunchly conservative Republican.
She says she made up her mind to run for the legislature on April 23.
She could probably tell you the exact time she decided, down to the minute; because it happened during the now-infamous 40-minute pause that Casada called to gouge out one more vote when it became apparent that there was a 49-49 stalemate on Dunn’s voucher bill.
Both sides were so dug in that they seemed to be at an impasse. Bounds, who was at home watching the proceedings live-streamed, was elated. She was pretty sure the bill was going to fail.
“I was aware that there was one pro-voucher representative who couldn’t be there, and when it came up 49-49, I was like Yay! This has failed! But then Casada took the unprecedented step of holding the vote open while he and his minions worked on the members.”
(Actually, there was some precedent for a speaker to hold the vote “open” – former Speaker Jimmy Naifeh did so during a state income tax fight, not that it did him much good.)
Her screen went blank for a while, and when it came back on, West Knox County Rep. Jason Zachary had flipped his vote and the bill had passed.
“We came so close to defeating it,” Bounds said. And that’s when she made up her mind not to wait for Dunn to state his intentions.
District 16 combines a chunk of Fountain City (where Dunn lives) with Halls and Powell, where Bounds lives and taught school at Brickey and Powell Elementary for nearly 25 years. She had never run for public office when she decided to throw her name in the hat for school board in 2014, as controversies over high-stakes testing and draconian teacher evaluations were coming to a boil. She started attending school board meetings, often wearing red – the color chosen by increasingly militant teachers to symbolize their struggles against corporate education reform.
Former county commissioner R. Larry Smith had announced that he planned to run for the school board seat, too, but quickly dropped out once Bounds got in, leaving her to run unopposed.
She says that Dunn’s taking himself out of the running won’t affect her plans.
And she’s not expecting to run unopposed this time. One of the many callers she talked to after Dunn’s announcement issued a warning:
“They said I can be sure the voucher vultures will find someone to run against me. But we’re not going to change what we’re doing.”