Jim Dunnam served in the Texas House of Representatives from 1997-2011. During his seven terms, he had numerous, diverse and noted achievements with national, statewide and local policy impact and often found himself in the middle of Texas’s most important policy debates.
Jim quickly demonstrated an advanced understanding of legislative procedure and strategy in the Texas House. In his freshmen term, he gained stature by sinking an attempt to create private school vouchers. In 1999, he was recognized as an “up and cover” by Texas Monthly Magazine. In 2001, they placed him on their Ten Best Legislators list, noting, “He’s a throwback to the old days, when success in the House rested on talent rather than title and you could do what you were big enough to do.” Capitol Inside and GalleryWatch repeatedly recognized him as a top legislator throughout his career in office. In 2003, Jim was selected by his colleagues to serve as House Democratic Leader, a position he held until the end of his service.
During his 14 years in office, Jim led legislative efforts to improve emergency services to rural areas, protect local drinking water, ensure smaller class sizes in elementary schools, strengthen laws against drunk driving, clean up troubled charter schools, and reform the Texas Youth Commission. Leaving no stone unturned, Jim is also responsible for passing Lauren’s Law, or the “Safe Cupcake Amendment.” Named over his eldest daughter, the bill has gained national attention, including mentions in the New York Times, Washington Post and NPR.
Jim is probably best known for engineering the Killer Ds walkout to Ardmore, Oklahoma in 2003, which successfully postponed consideration of a mid-decade redistricting plan championed by U.S. Representative Tom DeLay. He also played a pivotal role in the successful ousting of Speaker Tom Craddick in 2009, and he was an important part of the House Democratic Campaign Committee’s political leadership from 2004-2010. He also tied Representative Craig Eiland for “worst-dressed legislator” on at least one occasion.
Jim is a co-founder of the Official Band of the Texas House – The Bad Precedents – which preforms some of the most mediocre, unrehearsed Rock & Roll heard throughout Austin. The band has played repeatedly on 6th Street, but has yet to be invited to play at SXSW or ACL. The Bad Precedents are available for private events on an irregular basis; their appearance fee is really cheap, particularly if there’s an open bar.
His experience has earned him a unique reputation:
- Texas Monthly wrote: “In mastery of the legislative arts, Dunnam has few peers and fewer superiors.”
- The Texas Tribune stated: “‘Dunnam’ is an epithet Texas Republicans use in their fundraising letters.”
- The New York Times reported: “He is the leader of the Democrats in the lower chamber, distinguished for years as the sharpest and most persistent thorn in the conservative paw.”
- The Austin Chronicle wrote: “The high point of the night for Legislature watchers was an appearance by the famous The Bad Precedents, the (official band of the 80th Legislature) that draws its lineup from state legislators, policy wonks and campaign pros.”
In his private career, Jim works as an attorney at Dunnam & Dunnam Law Firm in Waco. He is a Texas Monthly “Super Lawyer” and was the 2001 Baylor University Young Lawyer of the Year. He serves as a Senior Fellow at the Texas First Foundation, a non-partisan, non-profit, Austin-based think tank. He is also a Public Policy Fellow with the University of Texas School of Law Center for Public Policy Dispute Resolution, an Arthur Fleming Fellow with the Institute for Progressive Leadership and credentialed by the Texas Mediator Credentialing Association.
Jim and his wife of 25 years, Michelle, have three children: Lauren, Mason and Rachel.