I am a lifelong Tennessean, and my family’s roots in Washington County go all the way back to the Revolutionary War. Tennessee is more than just another state to me, it’s my home.
I was born in Johnson City and attended Washington College Academy. When I was a teenager, I played in a band called “The Sleepless Nights” and we performed at Teen Town on the weekends.
I spent much of my childhood at my grandfather’s little house on Claiborne Street in Johnson City where he told me family stories that I still cherish today. His grandfather fought in the Civil War, and my father flew 31 missions over Europe in a B-24 bomber during World War II. My uncle Dewey, the man I am named for, also fought in World War II and lost his life in a P-38 Lightning while fighting the Japanese.
Their service and sacrifice are the reasons my life has been dedicated to serving our state and country.
I volunteered to serve my country during the War in Vietnam. As an intelligence specialist with a top-secret clearance and a price on my head, I intercepted coded messages from the enemy in the U.S. Army Security Agency. After that, I served with the FBI while earning my law degree at night.
In the late ‘80s, Governor Ned Ray McWherter appointed me as a Commissioner in the Tennessee Department of Corrections. In 1990, I was elected to the Tennessee State Senate as a conservative Democrat, but like Donald Trump and Ronald Reagan, I soon became a Republican. “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party,” Reagan famously said. “The party left me.”
Rusty’s fellow senators nicknamed him “the Rock” for his solid stances on conservative issues. We’re now the #1 state for fiscal responsibility with one of the lowest tax burdens as a percentage of personal income, and we’re leading the nation in best business climate.
My biggest impact as a citizen legislator came in 2002 when I was pressured to impose an unconstitutional, job-killing state income tax on Tennesseans. My decisive opposition stopped it dead in its tracks once and for all. That uncompromising stand cost me my job at the university and led me into a new private sector career in hyperbaric medicine and wound care management.
In the Tennessee State Senate, I represent Washington, Carter, and Unicoi Counties, and used to represent Hawkins and Johnson as well. I am the Chairman of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, a member of the Education and Government Operations committees, former chairman of the Joint Select Committee on Veterans Affairs, and a current member of the Governor’s Council for Armed Forces, Veterans, and Their Families.
Tennessee is leading the nation because as citizen legislators, we spend more time at home with the people we serve in our communities than in the capitol building in Nashville. I currently work in wound care and hyperbaric medicine, making sure hospitals, clinics, patients, and physicians have access to wound care, using God’s natural resources of pressure and oxygen.
My wife Sarah and I have two children, Katie and John. Sarah graduated from the ETSU Quillen College of Medicine with a PhD in Pharmacology/Toxicology in the Biomedical Sciences Program. Her career background includes working in academic medical research, for the State of Tennessee, and in private industry. She also serves on local community boards. My daughter Katie graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine and practices in the Knoxville area. Prior to her career as a veterinarian, Katie taught middle school science in Washington County. Katie’s husband Jordan is an East Tennessee State University graduate and is a sales manager for a company in the Knoxville region. My son John graduated from Milligan University and has been active in missions and church ministry work, both overseas and locally. He is currently pursuing postgraduate academic work. Sarah and I attend Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church in Johnson City.