KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – For just shy of three weeks, a Knoxville lawmaker will hold the speaker’s gavel for the first time in 114 years.
Rep. Bill Dunn took the helm as acting Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives after former Speaker Glen Casada resigned, following multiple controversies.
Dunn’s tenure ends August 23, when Rep. Cameron Sexton is expected to officially takeover. Sexton, picked by the GOP caucus out of six candidates, is more than likely to take the seat, as the Republican caucus has a supermajority.
The acting speaker is doing more than keeping the seat warm for Rep. Sexton. Wednesday night, Dunn is scheduled to meet with Amazon executives about their headquarters coming to Nashville. Thursday, he’ll sit on the state building commission as speaker. It reviews and signs off on building projects. Dunn is also working to restore public trust.
He’s working to help write what he called “a new chapter for the House of Representative,” by doing the work of the people without disruption or scandal. Dunn, who opted not to seek the seat himself, was elected Speaker Pro Tempore in January by house members.
Dunn said a lot of capitol staff has not been rehired following Casada’s departure. “Quite frankly, people were walking the halls and everyone wondered what they did,” he said.
He also said he believes going forward, Sexton will spend far less on salaries. Part of the power wielded by a Speaker, he explained, is setting salaries of capitol staff.
Dunn is also supportive of the likely next speaker. “He’s got the skills, both politically and policy wise. So, he’s got the toolbox he needs to be a successful speaker. I’m going to try to help him as he moves into that position to make it be a good, smooth, seamless process for him to takeover.”
Dunn, the longest-serving republican lawmaker in Tennessee’s House of Representatives, will continue to serve as Speaker Pro Tempore and as an outspoken lawmaker. “Sometimes you need an independent voice, someone who’s not trying to remain speaker, someone who can get up and say, folks this isn’t right. This is what we need to do, we’re going down the wrong path,” he said. It’s ultimately why, he said, he decided no to run for Speaker himself.
When asked about his experience so far, Dunn pointed out the significance of his leadership role, albeit temporary. “America is a great country because when I was first elected to office, for 12 or 13 years, I was a tree climber. I would literally, on Monday around lunch time, come out of a tree, drive to Nashville, put on a suit and go out on the house floor to vote. So, a blue collar guy who put on a hard had can become the speaker, the acting speaker of the house,” he said.
He acknowledged the optics battle the state’s endured, saying it distracted from what he sees as positive work of the last legislative session. “What i’m trying to do is stay away from that. I’m not on Facebook, i’m not on Twitter, so you’re not worried about some post that oops I shouldn’t have said or done. Hopefully, my fellow legislatures are back in their districts, meeting with their constituents, catching up with matter with their families and jobs there. If people are busy doing good, doing what their supposed to do, they don’t have time to get into trouble.”
His goals through the next couple weeks is simple: steer the ship in the right direction without making any waves. “Tennessee is in great shape. businesses are wanting to come here. it’s a great place to raise families. our education system is improving. we’re fiscally conservative. we have money in the rainy day fund for when the hard times come. unemployment is down. everything is great. so, i want to keep it going that way.”