The first mailer from a pro-voucher “outside” group this season landed in the mailboxes of likely Republican District 16 state House voters last week. It was not friendly to career teacher turned school board member turned legislative candidate Patti Bounds. No surprise there – Bounds, who is in her second term on the school board and is a former board chair, is an outspoken defender of public education who opposes diverting tax funds to charter schools and voucher programs.
She shook up the GOP establishment last September by announcing that she was going to run for the legislature. What made her announcement shocking was that she lives in Bill Dunn’s district.
The ultra-conservative Dunn had been a legislator since1994 and had helped propel the state House on its rightward march, becoming quite powerful in the process, particularly after Republicans took the majority in 2008. By 2019, Republicans enjoyed a super majority and Dunn was speaker pro tempore, which meant (on paper at least) that he was the second-most powerful member of the House of Representatives.
He is also the legislature’s leading supporter of charter schools and voucher programs.
Rumors had been circulating for some time that Dunn was ready to retire after finally reaching his long-thwarted goal of passing a voucher bill – although the bill and the shady tactics used to pass it were so flawed that it went straight from the governor’s desk to federal court and cost House Speaker Glen Casada his job. But it was a big victory if observed from a distance, and coupled with a bill chipping away at abortion rights, Dunn had checked two of his favorite boxes and declared victory.
There was no shortage of potential candidates awaiting his next move, including Chuck Severance, former county commissioner Scott “Scoobie” Moore and longtime ally Eddie Smith, a former District 13 representative who had moved into Dunn’s district after he lost his seat to Democrat Gloria Johnson in 2018. Dunn had recruited Smith to run against Johnson at the end of her first term in 2014.
But while others were biding their time out of deference to Dunn, Bounds took the leap and announced her candidacy, probably chapping some derrieres in the process. And for a while, it looked like she might have the primary to herself. But that ended Feb. 27 when District 2 County Commissioner Michele Carringer turned in a nominating petition with nearly three times the required 25 signatures. County Mayor Glenn Jacobs’ name tops the list.
House 16 takes in the northeast end of Fountain City (Dunn’s home turf), much of Halls and a chunk of Powell. Bounds lives in the Brickey area, between Halls and Powell. She taught kindergarten for many years at Powell and Brickey-McCloud elementary schools. Her children are graduates of Powell High School, pretty much covering the District 7 school board seat, where she declared for office early, cleared the field and ran unopposed in 2014. She served as chair 2016-2018.
Carringer, a lifelong Fountain Citian and Central High School graduate, was elected in 2016 after having previously been appointed to serve a partial term and falling short in a bid to keep the seat for a full term. Unlike Bounds, a conservative whose only ideological difference with Dunn is on education issues, Carringer is more difficult to label, although she is a lifelong Republican (her mother, Irene McCrary, served as county GOP chair some years ago).
Just this week, as a member of the Charter Review Commission, she was the swing vote for a ballot initiative to make the county law director appointed by the mayor, rather than elected. She voted for a $1,500 one-time bonus for deputies. She also voted in favor of the county’s lease agreement with TVA, clearing the way for the sale of the Andrew Johnson Building.
More of the district’s voters reside out Bounds’ way, but Carringer should do well in Fountain City. She heaps praise on Dunn in her campaign literature. It’s probably safe to bet that he won’t be campaigning for Bounds.
It’s an even safer bet to predict that the district will be represented by a woman next session – the only candidate in the Democratic Primary is Elizabeth Rowland.
Betty Bean writes a weekly opinion column for KnoxTNToday.com.