Grainger Today Correspondent
KNOXVILLE – U.S. Rep John J. Duncan Jr. has announced he will not seek reelection to the seat he has held for 28 years. In an exclusive interview with Grainger Today, Duncan remembered a time earlier in his congressional career when he was invited to be on the Larry King Show with a Democrat representative. During a commercial break, King leaned over to Duncan and said, “I’m going to invite two other people next time. You all get along too well.” King would have no problem today finding two combative lawmakers from opposite sides of the aisle, and Duncan said the toxic environment was a factor in his decision to retire after the 2018 election, with more than 30 years of service. “I told my wife Lynn it’s getting to the point you can’t please anybody. If I try to get along, people think I haven’t done enough,” Duncan said. “And some people don’t like it because I am not on Fox News every night.” Duncan said there were other reasons he decided it was time to return to his lakeside home in Grainger County. “I will be 71 and a half when my term is up, and I don’t want to die in office. Also I am tired of spending so much time in airports, on airplanes and traveling in the district,” he said. “I missed a lot of my children growing up, and I want to spend time with my children and nine grandchildren who live in Knoxville.” The congressman said he is not exactly sure what his future holds professionally, but he has a couple of things in mind. He said, “I may want to teach a class at the LMU law school (which is named for him) and also do some writing.” He said he has done a lot of writing over the years and is considering a book of stories about his professional life. “I have liked every job I ever had,” Duncan said. “I liked being a sack boy at the A&P, working at Sears, being a bat boy for the old Knoxville Smokies, writing for the Knoxville Journal and being a lawyer and a judge.” In his self-deprecating manner, he noted that the A&P is out of business, the Journal has ceased publication and “I almost killed Sears.” He recalled the first case he took on as a lawyer. He was sitting in U.S. District Court in Knoxville, the day before Thanksgiving. He had just been admitted to the bar and was still learning the ropes. Suddenly, the renowned Judge Robert L. Taylor appointed him to represent a couple of brothers in an interstate auto theft case. “He set the trial for the next Monday, so I spent the day after Thanksgiving in my office preparing motions. One of them was for a continuance,” he said. He said Judge Taylor granted his motion and ordered the U. S. Marshal to take the brothers into custody. They had been out on bond. “They decided they wanted a speedy trial,” Duncan said, laughing. Duncan said the most satisfying part of his job has been dealing with constituent services. “I am very grateful for all the notes and letters I have received from people thanking me for helping them. You should always pay close attention to constituent services.” A controversial vote the he feared might cost him his office has turned out to be one of his best votes, he said. “I voted against the Iraq war. They took a poll and 74 percent were opposed to my vote, 16 percent were in favor and 9 percent were undecided. But over the years, it has come to be one of the most popular,” he said. “I was saying put America first long before (President Donald) Trump came along.” He said the thing that has disappointed him most has been the deterioration of civility on Capitol Hill. “There is so much anger on both sides,” he said.