Jim Dunnam

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Jim Dunnam
Member of the Texas House of Representatives
from the 57th district
In office
Preceded by Barbara Rusling
Succeeded by Marva Beck
Personal details
Born (1963-12-12) December 12, 1963 (age 53)
McLennan County, Texas
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Michelle
Residence Moody, Texas
Alma mater Baylor University
Profession Attorney
Religion United Methodist

James R. "Jim" Dunnam (born December 12, 1963) was a Democratic member of the Texas House of Representatives, representing the 57th District since his election in 1996 from January 14, 1997, until January 11, 2011. He is the grandson of William Vance Dunnam, who served as a member of the Texas House of Representatives from Coryell County in the 35th Legislature, 1917-1918.

In history, Dunnam will be best known as "the leader of the Democrats in the lower chamber, distinguished for years as the sharpest and most persistent thorn in the conservative paw," as the New York Times reported in November, 2010. He is acknowledged as engineering the Killer Ds walkout to Ardmore, Oklahoma to postpone consideration of Tom DeLay's mid-decade redistricting plan. The walkout is credited with starting serious media inquiry into DeLay's actions as majority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, which ultimately led to DeLay's resignation in 2006.

Dunnam was educated at Baylor University, where he earned an undergraduate business degree and a law degree. Born in McLennan County, Texas, Dunnam is the second son of Clyde Vance Dunnam and Elnora Eveline Hohertz.

Political career[edit]

One of just two Democrats to defeat a Republican incumbent in the 1996 elections, Dunnam arrived in Austin marked for potential advancement. At the end of his first session, he had reversed budget cuts to a local college that occurred two years before. At the end of his second session, he was noted as a "comer" and potential top legislator. He fulfilled that prediction in the next session. At the end of the 2001 legislative session, Dunnam was hailed by Texas Monthly as one of Texas's ten best legislators because his "success in the House rested on talent rather than title and [he] could do what [he was] big enough to do. Though he lacked a chairmanship or even a seat on a powerful committee, Jim Dunnam was big enough to pass two of the session's biggest and best bills: charter-school reform and tougher restrictions on open containers of alcohol in cars."

As the first leader of a Democratic minority since Reconstruction, Dunnam was charged with shepherding a demoralized caucus through a "highly partisan House." Even observers who disagreed with his tactics continued to recognize his abilities as a legislator. "In mastery of the legislative arts," Texas Monthly noted in moving Dunnam from the best to worst list, he "has few peers and fewer superiors."

In the aftermath of the November 2008 elections in which House Democrats won 74 seats (just 2 shy of a majority), Dunnam played a pivotal role in ousting Tom Craddick as Speaker of the House and replacing him with Joe Straus. In a late November 2008 meeting of the House Democratic Caucus, Dunnam set in motion a series of events that would ultimately remove Craddick from power. He "pulled a blank sheet of paper out of his pocket, signed it and declared he'd publicly release his pledge to oppose Craddick whether the group signed the pledge or not." This convinced sixty-one of the House Democrats to sign the one-line pledge that night, while three more signed over the next two days. The list, kept "secret until Craddick's GOP opposition had gelled," was sealed in an envelope and kept "locked in the desk of a trusted Democratic operative." When it was released that Straus was the pick of a small group of Republicans known as the ABC's (for "Anybody But Craddick"), who publicly opposed Craddick's authoritarian reign over the House, Straus sent a consultant to retrieve the Dunnam list, and with the 13 pledges he had received from House Republicans, the Democrats' pledges put him well over the 76 votes he needed to win the speakership.

Dunnam lost his bid for re-election in November 2010, one of the "casualties of the Republican blood bath" of the November, 2010, elections which saw Texas Democrats lose 22 seats in the Texas House as Democrats lost state legislative chambers across the county and their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. He carried his home county of McLennan on election night while losing the other, more rural counties to political neophyte Marva Beck.

Dunnam is a board certified civil trial law and family law attorney with Dunnam & Dunnam.


  • Paul Burka, et al., The Best and The Worst Legislators, Texas Monthly (July 1999).
  • Paul Burka, et al., The Best and The Worst Legislators, Texas Monthly (July 2001).
  • Michael King, Ardmore Remembered, Austin Chronicle (May 21, 2004).
  • Jeffrey Toobin, Will Tom DeLay’s Redistricting in Texas Cost Him His Seat?, New Yorker (Mar. 6, 2006).
  • Ross Ramsey, The Bell Tolls for Waco, Caught in Election Day Seismic Shift, N.Y. Times A23A (Nov. 19, 2010).
  • Texas Birth Index, 1903–1997
  • Tex. Legis. Council, Members of the Texas Legislature, 1846-1962 260, 264 (1962).

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Barbara Rusling
Member of the Texas House of Representatives
from District 57 (Waco)
Succeeded by
Marva Beck
Notes and references
1. For the 76th and 77th Legislatures Dunnam’s home city was McGregor