Tommy Burks

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Tommy Burks
Member of the Tennessee Senate
from the district
In office
1978 – October 19, 1998
Succeeded by Charlotte Burks
Personal details
Born (1940-05-22)May 22, 1940
Cookeville, Tennessee
Died October 19, 1998(1998-10-19) (aged 58)
Cookeville, Tennessee
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Charlotte Burks
Occupation Farmer
Religion Church of Christ

Tommy Burks (May 22, 1940 – October 19, 1998) was a farmer and Democratic Party politician in Tennessee, United States. He served in the Tennessee House of Representatives from 1970 until 1978, and in the Tennessee State Senate from 1978 until his assassination in 1998.[1]


Born in Cookeville, Tennessee, Burks was one of the most conservative Democrats in the state legislature. He opposed the teaching of evolution in school science classes (twice introducing legislation to restrict its teaching), legal abortion, gambling, and a state lottery. His views seemed to have been very popular and in line with a large number of voters within his rural district.

Burks was an energetic legislator who almost never missed a floor or committee session. It is reported that he would on some occasions arrive at a session having already gotten up on his farm, delivered a load of hogs to Knoxville (approximately 90 miles east of his home) and then driven to the State Capitol in Nashville (100 miles west of his home and 190 miles west of Knoxville). Despite the 100-mile distance, and unlike most legislators from parts of the state a considerable distance from Nashville, Burks made it a practice to go home to his district and his farm almost every night, even during legislative sessions.


Burks was assassinated by his Republican Party opponent Byron Looper less than a month before his likely re-election. Burks was shot and killed by Looper on Burks' property. An eyewitness to the murder helped seal the conviction of Looper, the Putnam County Tax Assessor at the time. Burks' widow, Charlotte, ran for his seat and won, becoming the first Tennessee State Senator to win as a write-in candidate and one of very few American politicians to win as a write-in candidate ever. She won subsequent elections in 2002, 2006, and 2010. The gun used to kill Burks was never found, and is suspected of being thrown out of Looper's car window along I-40 between Monterey and Cookeville following the murder.

Interstate 40 through Wilson, Smith, Putnam, and Cumberland counties is named the "Tommy Burks Memorial Highway".