STATE LEGISLATURES MAGAZINE | DECEmber 2015
Ronald Lynn “Ron” Ramsey was elected Tennessee lieutenant governor and Senate speaker in 2007, making him the first Republican to serve in that role in 140 years. Ramsey grew up on a small farm in the state’s northeast corner, near Bristol, graduated from East Tennessee State University, and 30 years ago began a career in real estate auctioneering. He is a member of Tennessee’s Auctioneer Hall of Fame, was named “The Best Lawmaker for Business” by Business Tennessee magazine and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Bristol Chamber of Commerce in 2013.
How did you get into auctioneering?
After college, I started doing a lot of surveying for auction companies. I figured out they were making a lot more money than I was, for a lot less work. Rather than working all week long fighting bees, snakes and ticks, they came on a Saturday morning, held an auction and made more money. I said, I think I can learn how to talk like that. So I got my auctioneer license and started my own real estate auction business in 1986. I have an auction just about every Saturday and sometimes throughout the week.
How has auctioneering influenced your role as a legislator and a leader?
I’m used to using a microphone in front of an audience, being in front of a crowd. I don’t have any of those normal jitters people have. I learned to think quickly on my feet, to make quick decisions. It was great preparation for what I do now.
As one of the longest serving leaders, how would you describe your leadership style?
I’m not afraid to make a decision and then stick to it. I’m very loyal. About two-thirds of the Senate are on the Republican side. I helped them get elected and I stand behind them. People understand there’s not a lot of wishy-washiness to me. I usually say exactly what I’m thinking. Sometimes that gets me in trouble, but most of the time it doesn’t.
As a fan of “The Andy Griffith Show,” do you think America was better back then?
A lot of people were much better back in those innocent days, with the small-town atmosphere we had then. It was a simpler time. I was out on the farm all the time. I just like that lifestyle. You didn’t have the worries about today’s world and the direction we’re heading in. It was an escape we had—to go back to Mayberry.
What is your proudest accomplishment as a leader?
Getting the strong conservative majorities that we have in the Tennessee Senate, and now in the House. That’s first and foremost. Before I became a leader, it would be catching a murderer based on DNA legislation we passed, helping develop northeast Tennessee, and, almost on a daily basis, helping people cut through the red tape of state government.
What would surprise people most about you?
How little politics is part of my life. I also have three of the best daughters anybody could ever want, and I have four grandsons and another one on the way. And if I had my druthers, I would not be in Nashville doing political stuff. I would be at home working on the farm. I think most people think I live, breathe, eat, sleep this. Well, that’s not the case. That’s what makes a good politician well-grounded, when they have a life outside of politics that means a lot more to them than their political lives.
What advice would you give to new legislators on maintaining a good work-life balance?
It’s something you have to think about every day or the so-called “beltway mentality” will consume you. I get up every morning and remind myself that God is No. 1, family is No. 2, business is No. 3, and politics is No. 4.
What are you currently reading?
A Brad Thor book, “Black List.” I go back and forth between a biography about a leader or some history book, and then something fictional. But my favorite book is the Bible, of course. It’s better than fiction or anything like that.
Do you have any final words you’d like to share?
Stay grounded and remember where you came from. You’ll see politicians get carried off in handcuffs, but usually that’s for people who lost their priorities and forgot what’s important in life.