Dangers, demands motivators for Duncan retirement

He can look back and laugh now, but U.S. Rep. John J. “Jimmy” Duncan Jr. may have had a brush with danger “10 or 15 years ago” in the parking lot of Farragut’s Cracker Barrel.

Alongside Bob Griffitts, his longtime chief of state, “We were sitting at the Cracker Barrel at Campbell Station in a van I had at that time, going over some papers in the parking lot. … This little Datsun pickup truck came screeching up and these two guys from California, skinhead types, jumped out and ran up to the car,” Duncan recalled. “And this guy started screaming and said we had run him off the Interstate.

“We had been in a rural part of our district and hadn’t even been on the Interstate. I started shouting back at the guy — and this sounds terrible, but I was ticked off that we hadn’t done anything to them, and I said, ‘I’m a United States Congressman and I don’t appreciate this one bit’ — and they instantly took off,” the 2nd District Republican, 70, added with a laugh.

After the “skinheads” left, “Bob turned to me kind of shook up and said, ‘did you not see that guy’s machete?’ Which I hadn’t,” Duncan said. “I think for a while after that Bob carried a pistol.

“Police later thought these were the same people that kidnapped a woman in one of the convenience stores in Farragut and had taken her down to [a] park and done some things to her,” he added.

Recently announcing his retirement from Congress after what will be 30 years service to the 2nd District at the end of his current term, Duncan said he talked with Griffitts “several months before the last election, and we pretty much decided if we had another good election in 2016 that that would probably be it. ... That would be 30 years in Congress. That just seemed to me to be a good time to retire.”

Other factors included “the constant travel and the expectations of the people,” said Duncan, a resident of Andover and Sugarwood subdivisions in Farragut for a combined 26 years before moving in 2016. “It seems that long service in the House [of Representatives] is just almost a thing of the past.

“People’s expectations and demands are much greater now than they were years ago,” he added.

Hatred and anger toward politicians sometimes can boil to a potentially dangerous level when it takes the form of a threat, as Duncan experienced earlier this summer.

Just prior to Independence Day on Sunday, July 2, “I was sitting in my Knoxville office and they came back and said a man called in and was really angry. He said he wished I had been at the Congressional baseball practice [where a Congressman was shot in June]. He said he wished I’d been shot and he said he’d personally take care of it [the next] weekend,” Duncan said.

In the end, “two FBI agents went out to see this man and told me, ‘You won’t be bothered with him again,’” Duncan added.

“… I also received a threat one time when I was a [Knox County] judge that the police considered serious. And it was a threat against my children, and they were in elementary school at that time.

“They never did catch that person.”

Duncan said it can be challenging to live a Christian life as a member of Congress.

“It seems to me, and I think to most people who have been in politics a long time, that there’s more anger and hatred out there now than years ago,” Duncan said.

Attempting to pinpoint a cause, “I think computers are responsible for a lot of it,” he said. “It seems to me people who would be very kind or smiling or at least polite to your face, they get on those computers and they will say or write some of the most hateful things possible.”