Source: The Tennessean | Joel Ebert | January 7, 2017

Sen. Randy McNally speaks at the East Tennessee Economic Council’s Muddy Boots award luncheon Friday, Dec. 9, 2016. McNally is the next Senate speaker and lieutenant governor of Tennessee. (Photo: Saul Young/News Sentinel)

Like a Burgundy wine, his sense of humor is frequently dry. He was once John F. Kennedy in a high school debate, still occasionally plays lacrosse and has an affinity for rescuing dogs and practical jokes.

Meet James Rand “Randy” McNally III, the 72-year-old next Senate speaker and lieutenant governor of Tennessee.

On Tuesday, when the 110th General Assembly convenes, all eyes will be on the Senate as the chamber makes its formal transition from the leadership of Ron Ramsey, an affable and gregarious political powerhouse who played a pivotal role in securing the current Republican supermajority in the legislature, to McNally.

The two have similar political backgrounds — they rose through the ranks over a long period of time — and are natural leaders. But in other ways, the differences are stark. Both have their own specialties.

“A lot of times in baseball you need to follow the guy that throws at 100 miles an hour with the guy that throws the circle change-up 75 miles an hour,” said Brad Todd, a longtime political consultant who has worked closely with both men.

Sen. Randy McNally greets guests during the East Tennessee Economic Council’s Muddy Boots award luncheon Friday, Dec. 9, 2016. (Photo: Saul Young / News Sentinel)

McNally’s ascension this week will be the culminating act for a man who has commanded respect through his dedication to a life of public service that began in the muddy streets of Oak Ridge.

Humble beginnings

On a sunny Friday afternoon in early December, McNally took the stage at a lunchtime reception at a hotel in his hometown of Oak Ridge to hand off a Muddy Boot Award to U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Chattanooga.

The award, which is given to individuals who have been instrumental in the economic growth of Oak Ridge, received its name because those who worked in the community during the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb during World War II could be identified by their muddy boots.

During his brief remarks before handing out the award, the crowd listened intently to McNally, a past Muddy Boot recipient. He gave the crowd a brief summary of the comings and goings of the legislature, including topics such as the gas tax and the state’s budget surplus. McNally has become somewhat of a budget guru from serving as chairman of the Senate finance committee.

“I want to thank you all for the support that I’ve gotten out of this community,” McNally said in his signature style of speaking that’s reflective of his methodical thinking. “It’s really heartwarming to know that the people that I represent, the state I represent, are some of the finest people in the country.”

Later that afternoon, McNally reminisced about his past while considering his future from the comfort of his home, a modest house that lies between the Clinch River and a golf course.

The area is undoubtedly different than when McNally’s family moved from Massachusetts to Oak Ridge in 1948, when he was just 4 years old. His father, who went by Rand, was a physicist, with degrees from Boston College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A few years after he graduated from MIT, Rand was asked to come to Oak Ridge to help work on the Manhattan Project.

When the family arrived, security in Oak Ridge was tight — those going in and out had to show a badge to guards at gates because the entire area was fenced off. “The FBI would come around and interview you about your neighbors,” McNally said. “It just seemed kind of normal.”

Little did McNally know that such routine interactions with federal investigators when he was a young boy would be revived more than 40 years later.

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