Winfield Dunn

Dunn doesn’t want Cordell Hull Building named after him

Former Gov. Winfield Dunn awaits the start of the of the inauguration of Gov. Bill Lee in Nashville on Jan. 19, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A proposal to rename the Cordell Hull Building after former Gov. Winfield Dunn sparked a round of self-congratulation among Republicans in the state House. But key members of the Senate were less enthralled by the idea. And now Dunn himself is asking the legislature not to go through with it.

The Daily Memphian’s Sam Stockard spoke to Dunn about the proposal on Monday.

“I was very surprised to learn what the representative had undertaken to do,” Dunn told the publication. “It seems so completely out of proportion to the historical context of our state. I personally consider Cordell Hull to be an unblemished representative of what Tennessee is. I expressed my reservations to the legislator.”

Dunn was governor from 1971 to 1975, serving at a time when incumbents weren’t allowed to run for re-election. Dunn took another swing at the governor’s office in 1986, but fell short to then-House Speaker Ned Ray McWherter (D-Dresden).

State Rep. Ron Gant (R-Rossville) last month announced plans to name the building Dunn. The facility has been named after Cordell Hull, the country’s longest-serving secretary of state, since it was first constructed in the 1950s.

Dunn is a Republican, while Nobel Peace Prize-winning Hull was a Democrat. Dunn became Tennessee’s first Republican governor in 48 years when he was elected in 1970.

So is Dunn’s demurral the end of the renaming effort? Not according to Gant.

“Anybody who thinks a building should be named after themselves probably isn’t worthy of such an honor,” he said in a statement. “Governor Dunn does not have an over-inflated sense of self worth like many politicians in this day and age. Former Gov. Dunn is a humble man and was a dedicated servant for our state. It is not surprising he is hesitant of this honor being bestowed upon him.”

New movement afoot to rename Cordell Hull Building


State Rep. Ron Gant (R-Rossville) wants to rename the General Assembly’s new office complex after former Gov. Winfield Dunn, reports WKRN-TV’s Chris Bundgaard. The building has been named after Cordell Hull, the country’s longest-serving secretary of state, since it was first constructed in the 1950s.

Dunn is a Republican, while Nobel Peace prize-winning Hull was a Democrat.

Dunn became Tennessee’s first Republican governor in 48 years when he was elected in 1970.

It’s not the first time Republicans have chafed at working in a building named after a Democrat. As the AP reported in 2017, state Sen. Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains) wanted to remove the name of “that old Democrat socialist” before lawmakers moved last year. But Sen. Ken Yager (R-Kingston) opposed the change, noting that Hull was from his district.

Hull was born in a log cabin in rural Pickett County in 1871 and served in the state House and the U.S. Senate before being named secretary of state in 1933. Poor health forced him to retire from President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Cabinet in 1944.

The previous call to change the name of the Cordell Hull building didn’t gain much traction. Then-Rep. Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga) wasn’t thrilled by the idea.

“He was a member of the Tennessee House of Representatives,” McCormick said. “And as long as he wasn’t a state senator, I think it’s OK to leave his name on the building.”

No word yet on whether the effort to name the legislative branch’s office complex after a former head of the executive branch will give anyone pause.

Former Gov. Winfield Dunn endorses Blackburn

Former Tennessee Gov. Winfield Dunn has endorsed Republican Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn.

“November’s election is not about the past; it is about the future of the state and the country,” Dunn, 91,  said in a release. “Marsha Blackburn is the only candidate who will vote to protect Tennessee values. She has dedicated her life to making things better for her fellow Tennesseans, and she will represent us faithfully in the United States Senate.”

Dunn’s election as governor in 1970 kicked off a new two-party era in Tennessee state government that had largely been controlled by Democrats since Reconstruction. Dunn made another bid for governor against Democrat Ned Ray McWherter in 1986, but fell short. He has since become an elder statesman of the Tennessee Republican Party.

M. Lee Smith, Tennessee Journal founder, dies aged 74

Lee Smith, founder of The Tennessee Journal and M. Lee Smith Publishers, died Tuesday night in Nashville after battling a blood condition for several years. He was 74.

Starting with the Journal in January 1975, Smith built an enterprise that eventually published newsletters in all 50 states, most of them dealing with workplace law compliance. He sold the company in 2005.

He was a graduate of Vanderbilt University and Vanderbilt Law School who in the late 1960s worked on the staff of U.S. Sen. Howard Baker. Among his co-workers was Lamar Alexander, now a U.S. senator himself. Smith served as general counsel for Gov. Winfield Dunn in the early 1970s.

Despite his background of working for Republican officeholders, upon launching his political newsletter Smith was determined, as he often discussed, to “play it straight down the middle” in political analysis and reporting.

In a statement Wednesday on his longtime friend’s death, Alexander said Smith and his newsletter “participated in Tennessee politics in a straightforward way that commanded the respect of both Democrats and Republicans.”

In 1977, Smith got perhaps his most famous scoop when he spotted Roger Humphreys of Johnson City working in the Capitol as a state photographer. Smith, a Johnson City native, knew Humphreys had been sentenced to prison a couple of years earlier for a double murder. But Humphreys was the son of Gov. Ray Blanton’s Washington County patronage committee chairman. Smith’s note in The Tennessee Journal on the matter set off a political firestorm that continued through Blanton’s administration.

Dan Oswald, who purchased M. Lee Smith Publishers in 2005 and has since expanded the business through a series of mergers and acquisitions, today described Smith as “a true southern gentleman and a savvy businessman.”

“I had the privilege of knowing Lee as a colleague in our industry for many years before having the opportunity to relocate to Tennessee and purchase his company from him,” Oswald said. “… I was lucky to know Lee Smith. I was lucky that he entrusted me with the business he had built and the people he cared so much about. And I was lucky to call Lee my friend and adviser. I’m going to miss him.”

Note: Oswald’s full posting on Lee Smith is HERE and he has a link to another post.

UPDATE: Visitation from noon to 2 p.m. on Friday at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Nashville, followed by a funeral service at 2 p.m.


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