KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Congressman John J. Duncan Jr. expects the decision that may define his three decades in Washington is the vote he cast in opposition to going to war with Iraq in 2002.
“When I pushed that button to vote against the war, I wondered if I was ending my political career,” said the congressman in an extended interview reflecting on his career as a lawmaker.
Representative Duncan says with that vote he not only bucked the wishes of a majority of voters in his district and leaders in his party, he was one of seven Republicans in the House to vote against the war. The man who followed his father into office suspects he also disappointed one of the men he most looked up to in life.
“Much to my surprise, and probably to my dad’s disappointment, I became a very anti-war Republican. And I have been very outspoken speaking out against these wars in the Middle East, and if I am remembered for anything I think that is what I will be remembered for,” said Representative Duncan.
When asked about the other hallmark legislation during his tenure, the congressman quickly pointed to his six-year chairmanship duties on three separate committees. On the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, specifically, he took a lead role in moving legislation benefiting people of Tennessee’s 2nd District and travelers across the country.
“We got more highway money in here than probably any district in the country. We passed the Aviation Medical Assistance Act that was the first “Good Samaritan Law in the Sky" to say that doctors and nurses can’t be sued if they help a person who has a heart attack or stroke on a plane, and it’s responsible for all the defibrillators being in the airport,” said the congressman.
The lawyer-by-trade-turned-judge-turned-congressman said his father, who held the same House seat for more than two decades, served as a role model.
“I drove my dad around when he was in office and so, slowly, I got the politics in my blood,” said Representative Duncan. “He was the sweetest, kindest, toughest, hardest working man I ever knew,” recalled the younger Duncan of his father.
In retirement, the congressman plans to write a book about his life and political career. The law school at Lincoln Memorial University that bears his name set up an office for him and asked Representative Duncan to teach a few classes. In addition, after spending the last 30 years making, by his count, 1,200 trips to Washington, D.C., the 71-year old East Tennessee native said he is grateful to be able to spend more time with his nine grandchildren.
“The sweetest word I hear now is not 'congressman' it’s 'papa.'"
2019 will mark a new chapter for the Duncan family and for voters in Tennessee’s 2nd District who won’t have someone by that name in that office for the first time in 50 years.
“My dad told me a long time ago…you know how long it takes them to forget you once you leave office? He said about as long as it takes for the ripples to go away when you throw a rock in the water. So, I keep that in mind,” Representative Duncan said with a chuckle.