KNOXVILLE (WATE) – For the first time since his announcement that he won’t seek reelection in 2018, Second District Tennessee Congressman Jimmy Duncan spoke with WATE 6 On Your Side in his Knoxville office Wednesday.
Duncan, 70, first elected in 1988, will have served more than 30 years in the seat by the time his term ends. His father held the seat for more than two decades before that, meaning it has been in the family’s hands for more than half a century.
When asked why he decided now was the right time to decline to seek reelection, Duncan cited health concerns and a desire to spend more time with family.
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“Two years ago, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. And though that seems to be going alright, my dad died at 69 with prostate cancer. My uncle Frank died at 66 with prostate cancer. I’ll be 71 and a half at the end of this term,” Duncan said. “Not many people are blessed with nine grandchildren in their hometown. And frankly I just wanted to spend more time with them, and less time in airports and airplanes.”
Duncan was noncommittal when asked if he would endorse fellow Republican and Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett to be his successor. Burchett has filed paperwork to run for Congress and is expected to make his run official in an announcement Saturday.
“I don’t know what I would do in that situation. There’s always surprises in politics,” said Duncan. “Tim’s about the only person who couldn’t have attacked me for being a career politician because he’s been a career politician. What can I say? I’m not thinking about that at this time.”
When asked to describe his most memorable moment in Congress, Duncan thought briefly and ultimately cited his vote against the war in Iraq from the very beginning.
“I voted against going to war in Iraq the day after I had been told about a poll that said 74 percent of the people in the district were for it, nine percent were against and 17 percent undecided. I’ll never forget those numbers, and I really wondered at the time if I was ending my political career, and actually for three or four years it was the most unpopular vote I ever cast,” said Duncan. “But what had been my most unpopular vote slowly, slowly became my most popular vote.”
When asked whether Donald Trump has been a good president so far, Duncan declined to give a yes or no answer, but did say he has many areas of agreement with Trump.
“His personality is probably totally different than mine. But I was one of [Donald Trump’s] earliest endorsers, and the main reason was is that I’ve been saying for years that we should stop trying to run the whole world and put America first. I was saying that long before Donald Trump,” said Duncan, who added he was an early endorser of Trump because he saw the Manhattan billionaire as the least hawkish of all the Republican presidential candidates in 2016. “I don’t agree with him on everything, but I sure am glad he’s in there instead of Hillary Clinton.”