Dunn's Book Details GOP Comeback in Tenn.

By Bill Dries


President Richard Nixon

At a Republican governors conference in Memphis in 1973, Nixon talked privately with the governors about the still-unfolding Watergate scandal. He assured them that there would be no more surprises that would further damage the party.
"Imagine my shock the following evening when a news broadcast revealed that one of the tapes subpoenaed contained an 18-and-one-half-minute gap. ... Although (Nixon) managed to survive additional months in office, I am confident the highly questionable tape played a major role in his subsequent resignation from office. I was, to the say the least, disappointed."


A man Dunn doesn't identify tried to offer Dunn an envelope with cash in it. After insisting he wanted nothing in return, the man nonetheless made a pitch for a license plate with a low number (which would have been considered a status symbol at the time). Dunn refused the bribe, but did fulfill the request.
"His final remark in my presence was, 'I really don't understand why you won't take my gift. The others did.' With that he was gone. I didn't dwell on that experience. I didn't have the time. And yet, I didn't forget it. The gentleman probably felt there was nothing wrong with what he offered."

Overton Park Expressway

"What an irony, I thought. A Republican governor, two Republican senators, a U.S. secretary of transportation appointed by a sitting Republican president of the United States - all unable or unwilling to get a firm directive to proceed with a project that was clearly in the public interest."

John Jay Hooker

Dunn got his first good look at his 1970 Democratic adversary at the annual Strawberry Festival parade in Humboldt and was shocked to discover that Hooker was wearing pancake makeup.
"I was not prepared mentally to absorb that fact. ... It didn't strike me as mannish, much less he-mannish. I decided that my earlier impression of Hooker had been an illusion. I began to reassess my ideas regarding his impregnability as an opponent."

Congressman Jimmy Quillen

The East Tennessee congressman and power broker proved to be difficult to deal with and, Dunn said, "bizarre."
"The congressman demanded not only that every candidate running in the district clear all relationships with his office, he also let it be known that he wanted every dollar contributed to a candidate to clear his office first."

Book signings can be similar to political events, with a lot of handshaking, posing for pictures, signing autographs, usually a brief talk - and money is involved.

It's an atmosphere former Tennessee Gov. Winfield Dunn excels at as he promotes his new book about his historic 1970 bid to become governor and his four-year term of office.

The personal and political memoir is titled "From A Standing Start." Dunn was in town recently for a book signing at Bookstar in East Memphis that drew around 40 people with at least one weathered Dunn campaign button spotted.

Dunn was a Memphis dentist with political ambitions when he became the first Republican elected governor in Tennessee in 50 years.

"It happened in Shelby County. It happened because of Shelby County," Dunn said. "I want everybody across the state to read those words ... and understand what big Shelby did that year that literally had a lasting effect on the political climate of our state. ... The success we had in 1970 getting a two-party system to come to life in Tennessee has always been a matter of great pride to me."

Specifically, Dunn said, "the Republican candidate for governor was from the right part of the state. The Democrat party was divided."

Elephants of a feather ...

The political pump had already been primed by Howard Baker's 1966 election to the U.S. Senate. It was a GOP victory in which Shelby County also played a significant role.

Democratic nominee John Jay Hooker did not have the backing of key party factions controlled by the serving governor, Buford Ellington.

Dunn was running on a Republican ticket that included Congressman Bill Brock's quest to unseat Democratic Sen. Albert Gore Sr. Brock, as well as Baker, who, although not a candidate, was a visible part of the GOP campaign, were from East Tennessee. Dunn said he believed a West Tennessee Republican was a necessary balance.

Dunn also talked about the political frustrations of his single term as governor. Governors were limited by the state constitution to one term in office at the time.

"We failed to help enlarge our prison system because we couldn't get people in the communities to accept the prisons under the guidelines that we had to follow," Dunn said after autographing the last of the books on hand.

It was also during his administration that state and local leaders continued to push the proposed extension of Interstate 40 through Overton Park. The project was later scrapped after a court fight that spanned decades.

Dunn still believes it was a good project.

"It could have been put through there and it would not have influenced the park. No one would have been put out," he said. "Instead we had to give up on it, I'm sorry to say, while hundreds of people sold their property to the state and lost their homes because they thought it would happen and it didn't."

Taxation and representation

Dunn started the memoir as a written record for his grandchildren.

"I have always loved the political process," Dunn said as he talked of honorable politicians. "Unfortunately, we only read about the other kind. And you can't avoid that problem. But I think it's incredibly important for people to pay attention to who stands to represent them and to spend their hard-earned tax dollars."

Retired U.S. District Judge Harry Wellford, Dunn's campaign manager and closest adviser, was among those in the audience as well as Shelby County Sheriff Mark Luttrell. Dunn's wife, Betty, also greeted people waiting in line and co-signed a few books as well.

As he signed copies of the book, Dunn talked with those who worked in the 1970 campaign as well his unsuccessful 1986 run for governor, often remembering names without any prompting. There were also former patients from his dental practice as well.

Those from the 1970 campaign were often citizens with no prior political experience, he said later.

"But they got excited. They discovered the process for themselves. And when you discover something for yourself it means more to you," he said.

Drew Daniel, of a younger generation of local Republicans, stood in line for an autographed copy of the book. He then got back in line to ask Dunn to sign his qualifying petition to run as a Republican convention delegate on the Feb. 5 ballot. Dunn signed without hesitation.

Dunn will return to Memphis next week for a Dec. 14 private fundraiser for former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson's presidential campaign. He's also scheduled for another Memphis book signing in January.