Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, March 21, 2014

State Rep. Mike Turner retiring from the General Assembly

State Representative 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 its numbers in the Legislature dwindle in recent years as the GOP increasingly took control of the state.

With you leaving the General Assembly, who will be the strong voice for the Democratic Party?

“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 outside of here, whether it’s 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’re also a very united bunch.

“The Republicans have … 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 might step in and fill this void?

“A bunch of them that have picked up papers. I knew several of them would. Every one that has picked up so far seems really credible. I don’t know one or two of them, but I do know five of them. I think they’re outstanding.”

Do you think this is a time for the younger generation to step up? 

“I 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 running again [for the leadership post], but that’s 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’ll succeed in limiting the power of the governor?

“I don’t know that’s what they’re 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’re trying to challenge him on some social issues, like the Medicaid expansion, or things like it. I think that’s wrong.

“But I think [what] we should do is to take [back] the power we ceded to him, like corrections oversight, TennCare oversight, and some of these oversight committees we just did away with.

“Some of the contracts that have come under scrutiny – like the Jones Lang LaSalle – would have been under more scrutiny had we not 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’s purely partisan political hijinks, which is what they’re trying to do here. It’s wrong.”

What’s happening within the state Democratic Party?

“There’s obviously some tension with the party. If we’re going to have tension with the party, now is the time to do it. We’re in the low ebb, and we’re 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 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 – we’ll put ourselves in a pretty good stead for 2016.”

What are your plans for the future?

“Well, I don’t know. I’ve been encouraged to run for mayor. I’ve turned down maybe a couple of business opportunities over the years that might 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 I enjoy.

“I’ve never really had an occupation. I’ve had avocations my whole life. I’m a firefighter – I’ve 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’re not in 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’re off. I take pride in being a firefighter. You take a lot of pride in being a state representative. I’ve been very lucky in my life. I’ve been able to do what most other people can’t. I’ve been able to do dream jobs.”

Any chance that you’ll run for governor?

“I’ve had a bunch of calls on that. I doubt it. I don’t think that’s going to happen. But, I’ve been encouraged quite a bit in the last few days. If I do something, it’ll probably be more toward the local government. If I do anything else in the political realm, it’ll 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’m still caucus chairman. I’d like to do it in the fall sometime. I’d like to make up my mind then. I have to convince my family. They’re probably the biggest obstacle right now. I think they’d be okay with it, but I think I have a broader base than anyone that has talked about running.

“Obviously, I’m not a wealthy person, I’d have to raise some money. Still, it’s hard. I’m a native Nashvillian; I grew 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’ve represented the downtown area, where most of the businesses are located. I think I … [know and understand] what’s going on.”

What do you want to be remembered by from your time in the General Assembly? What’s your legacy on the Hill?

“I’ve 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 the average person. So I’ve always been a champion of the working man.

“The guy who digs the ditches, who’s a firefighter, or a police officer, the small business man 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’ve 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.” 

Rep. Mike Turner

D-Old Hickory

District: 51, includes parts of Davidson County

Profession: Firefighter/EMT

Personal: Married, three children

Religious affiliation: United Methodist

Contact: (615) 741-3229; rep.mike.turner@capitol.tn.gov