published Thursday, October 29th, 2009

Several eyeing Sen. Bunch's seat

NASHVILLE -- Former state Sen. Lou Patten confirmed Wednesday he is weighing a run in the Senate District 9 GOP primary now that Sen. Dewayne Bunch has decided not to seek re-election.

"I'm thinking about it," said Mr. Patten, 58, a Republican who served in the Senate from 1986 to 1994. "Let's say I haven't ruled that out. I think I've got some experience in the Senate, and I feel like I could help our district."

Earlier this week, Sen. Bunch, R-Cleveland, told the three House members who live in the Senate district -- which includes Bradley, Polk, Meigs and McMinn counties -- that he would not seek a second Senate term.

Mr. Patten, an associate partner in Cornerstone Insurance Group, said he has maintained contacts at various state agencies over the years.

After Sen. Bunch's announcement, Rep. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, immediately announced he will run for the open seat. Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, said he is considering a run but is leaning toward running again for his House seat.

Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, did not return calls but has been quoted saying that he is weighing a bid.

Sen. Bunch served 10 years in the House before he was elected to the Senate in 2006 -- when Republicans won their first working majority in 140 years. Since entering the Senate, Sen. Bunch has championed any number of causes near and dear to conservatives.

In an interview, Sen. Bunch said he and his family decided in 2008 he should not seek re-election in 2010 after his legislative duties in Nashville began chipping away at the time he spent with his children.

The one-time wrestling coach was known for driving home Tuesday afternoons during the legislative session to watch his sons participate in athletic events, returning to Nashville for Wednesday morning committee meetings.

Sen. Bunch said he and his wife "prayed for affirmation" from God about what his future course should be.

"We feel like we had affirmation and are very comfortable that we need to leave," he said.

But he said he isn't ruling out the possibility of a future bid for office.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, called Sen. Bunch "one of the best guys you ever want to meet." While Sen. Bunch's decision not to run again surprised him, Lt. Gov. Ramsey said, "knowing the family man that Dewayne is, I understand what he's been going through with his sons growing up" without him.

Lt. Gov. Ramsey said District 9 is "a very safe district" and "one of the most Republican in the state."

Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney, D-Jackson, said Democrats still will be looking at District 9.

"We recognize the kind of district that it is," Sen. Finney said. "But there are a lot of good Democrats there and elections are funny things."

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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