NASHVILLE -- A recently retired state lawmaker from Southeast Tennessee has become the third former Republican legislator in recent weeks to get a high-paying job elsewhere in state government.
Former Sen. Dewayne Bunch, R-Cleveland, a frequent critic of appointed judges, did not seek re-election last fall. He recently was appointed as an administrative law judge by Secretary of State Tré Hargett, a fellow Republican. He has been on the payroll since Dec. 1 and will receive $97,728 a year, according to a Hargett spokesman.
Efforts to reach Bunch, an attorney who served eight years in the House and four in the Senate, were unsuccessful on Friday and Monday.
In a departure from current practice, Bunch will not be based in Nashville as are the other administrative law judges.
"This is something new," Hargett spokesman Blake Fontenay confirmed in an e-mail. "Historically, the administrative law judges have been based in Nashville but have traveled (and still do travel) throughout the state. Our expectation is that by having Sen. Bunch based in East Tennessee, it will cut down on travel time and travel expenses.
He said Hargett "may consider basing an administrative law judge in West Tennessee as well."
Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, called Bunch a "nice fellow and someone with whom I always got along in the Senate.
"However," Berke added, "I do find it ironic that he spent a great amount of time railing against appointed judges and now has himself been selected by a former legislator to serve as a judge."
During his Senate tenure, Bunch attacked the state's method of selecting and electing appellate judges and Supreme Court justices. That process involves a special commission determining which nominees are forwarded to the governor, who makes the appointment. Voters later vote on whether to retain the judges.
Bunch charged "special interests" controlled the appointments and claimed the retention-election setup violates the Tennessee Constitution.
As an administrative law judge in the Secretary of State's Division of Administrative Procedure, Bunch will conduct contested case hearings for state administrative agencies. The division is not part of the judicial branch of government.
Tennessee Bar Association Executive Director Allan Ramsaur, whose group clashed with Bunch over judicial appointments, called Bunch a "capable lawyer."
Berke said "there's an issue here" as former lawmakers move into other areas of government.
"We've just got to be on the lookout to make sure these are qualified people who can serve the state and not cronyism," he said.
Earlier this month, the state comptroller named House Republican Majority Leader Jason Mumpower, R-Bristol, who did not seek re-election, as his executive assistant. He is being paid a $125,000 salary. The comptroller, like the secretary of state, is elected by the General Assembly.
Rep. Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, the presumptive House speaker, has named former Rep. Joe McCord, R-Maryville, as House clerk. No salary has been set, Harwell said. Current House Clerk Burney Durham, who also serves as chief of staff, is paid $161,376.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550.