VOL. 129 | NO. 54 | Wednesday, March 19, 2014
‘Champion of Working Man’ Rep. Turner Set to Retire
ZACK BARNES | Special to The Daily News
State Rep. and Nashville Democrat Mike Turner is retiring from the General Assembly and considering a run for mayor.
He served for 14 years, representing District 51, including parts of Old Hickory, Madison, East Nashville, downtown Nashville and Germantown.
Turner, the caucus chairman for the House Democrats, toiled for the minority party, which has seen as its numbers in the Legislature dwindle in recent years as GOP increasingly took control of state.
With you leaving the General Assembly, who will be the strong voice for the Democratic Party?
Oh, I think Craig Fitzhugh, the (minority) leader, is more than capable of doing it. He understands government better than anyone. He also has a diplomatic touch, and he can deal with people, say, outside of here, whether it is business people or the party.
With such low numbers in the General Assembly, how can Democrats get anything done right now?
Well, we have the most experience. Most of their guys have less than four years of experience. Probably over half has less than six years of experience. They don’t have a lot of experience or institutional knowledge. Our people do.
We know how to work the system or use the system to the best advantage for our people, our constituents and what we believe in. We are also a very united bunch.
The Republicans have, what I considered, the traditional Tennessee Republicans, they’ve got the Christian Right and the tea party Republicans. They don’t always get along. There are times that our 27 votes are the largest bloc of votes for a particular bill.
With you stepping down, do you see any young people coming that may step in and fill this void?
There are a bunch of them that have picked up papers. I knew several of them would. Everyone that has picked up so far seems like they are really credible. I don’t know one or two of them, but I do know five of them. I think they are outstanding.
Do you think this is a time for the younger generation to step up?
I kind of have some remorse leaving because, does the party or the people need me more now up here? I thought (leaving) was an opportunity for me now, that if I want to do something now, I should do it now.
I also knew there were people waiting in the wings to run for my spot. There are also some young people (at the General Assembly) waiting to get into leadership. I thought about stepping down from leadership and not run again (for the leadership post), but that is just hard to do.
So I just thought I would hang it up. I think the future is bright. We have some talented people here. Mike Stewart, Joe Pitts, and some of these guys are just outstanding.
The supermajority is trying to take power away from the executive branch. Do you think they will succeed in limiting the power of the Governor?
Here’s the thing about it. I don’t know that’s what they are trying to do. Because when they first got here, they ceded a lot power to him. We had all kinds of oversight committees, and we did away with all those. So we actually made the executive branch stronger.
I think they are trying to challenge him on some social issues, like the Medicaid expansion or things like that. I think they are trying to challenge him on that. I think that’s wrong.
But I think (what) we should do is to take (back) the power that we ceded to him, like corrections oversight, TennCare oversight, some of these oversight committees that we just did away with.
Some of the contracts that has come under scrutiny, like the Jones Lang LaSalle, several of the contracts would have been under more scrutiny had we not have done away with those oversight committees. So we need to take that part back.
(Questions arose in 2013 about Gov. Haslam’s financial connection to Jones Lang LaSalle, a multinational corporation contacted to manage all state buildings.)
As far as trying to take government power away that is purely partisan political high jinks, which is what they are trying to do here, (it) is wrong.
What is happening within the state Democratic Party?
There is obviously some tension with the party. If we are going to have tension with the party, now is the time to do it. We are in the low ebb, and we are starting our way back. I think we showed some signs of that when we came out of redistricting last time. They beat us out of more seats with a pencil. We won back some of those seats back that they tried to make Republican districts.
I think if we can hold our own this time, not lose anybody else, pick up a few seats, I think we are putting up ourselves in a pretty good stead for 2016.
What are your plans for the future?
Well, I don’t know. I have been encouraged to run for mayor. There are maybe a couple of business opportunities that I have turned down over the years that may still be there if I pursue them. I also want to play a little golf and do some more hunting and fishing. I still work a full-time job as a firefighter, too. I don’t have a lot time to do the things that I enjoy doing.
I have never really had an occupation. I have had avocations my whole life. I am a firefighter – I have wanted to do that since I was a kid. I wanted to be a politician because my daddy was. I saw him help a lot of people.
The only other thing I wanted to be was tight end for the Baltimore Colts. That didn’t quite work out. I’m 59, I might have a chance. Of course, they aren’t Baltimore anymore.
I have avocations. I worked at Dupont, and that was a great job, a great company to work for. It’s an eight-hour job. When you get off, you leave. I got jobs that I look forward to coming to work. You think about them when you are off. I take pride in being a firefighter. You take a lot of pride in being a state representative. I have been very lucky in my life. I have been able to do what most other people can’t do. I have been able to do things that are dream jobs.’’
Any chance that you will run for Governor?
I have had a bunch of calls on that. I doubt that. I don’t think that’s going to happen. But, I have been encouraged quite a bit in the last few days. If I do something, it will probably be more towards the local government. If I do anything else in the political realm, it will probably be in the mayor’s race.
If you ran for Mayor, when would you announce?
I’m not in that big of a hurry. I am still caucus chairman. I would like to do it in the fall sometime. I would like to make up my mind then. I have to convince my family. They are probably the biggest obstacle right now. I think they would be okay with it, but I think I have a broader base than anyone that has talked about running.
Obviously, I am not a wealthy person, I would have to raise some money. Still, it’s hard. I’m a native Nashvillian, I have grown up in this town. I work for the Metro Government (as a firefighter). I understand state government. I understand politics and how things work. I have represented the downtown area where most of the businesses are located. I think I am in a position, in far as knowledge and understanding what’s going on.
What do you be remember by from your time in the General Assembly? What is your legacy on the Hill?
I have always tried hard to look out for the little guy. You walk up and down these halls, there are lobbyists all over the place, but few of them represent that average person. So I have always been a champion of the working man.
The guy who digs the ditches, who is a firefighter, police officer, the small business man who is out there who can’t afford to join the Chamber of Commerce or the NFIB. There are a lot of business people out there like that. Most business people don’t belong to (those organizations) because they can’t afford it. They don’t have lobbyist up here.
I’ve been trying to be a voice for that person. I hope I succeeded in that. I have taken great pride in trying to represent the least among us, so to speak. Not just the poorest people, but the working people who don’t always get a voice up here. Because they don’t always have the money to hire the big fancy lobbying firm.