Why Mike Turner wants out

State rep and member of Democratic leadership may be eying run for mayor

Mike Turner can rattle off a handful of reasons why we wants to leave the state legislature after he finishes out this term.

Among them, his departure would begin making room for a new generation of Democratic Party leaders in the House, he’d leave before he gets too cynical for the job, and spend more time with his wife and now-adult daughters.

It’s no longer fun being a Democrat on the Hill now that the legislature is swelling with Republicans, either, he added.

But Turner’s real reason? “I’m leaving to do other things.”

The Old Hickory Democrat, six years deep into House leadership and working on 14 years as a state rep, has made it no secret he’s eyeing Nashville Mayor Karl Dean’s soon-to-be-vacated seat. Although he stopped short of saying that’s exactly what he’ll do with his new-found free time.

“I’m serious about that, I’m going to look at that, I’m going to talk to some people. That’s a little ways off yet, but I’m interested,” he said.

Turner, 59, has thought for the last couple years about getting out of the legislature. It’s something he said he feels guilty about but said it’s time he move on “to the next stretch of my life.

“We’ve still got a fight on our hands up here and I kind of feel like I’m leaving my guys here,” he said. “I feel a little guilty I’m not going to be in the trenches with them.”

Turner’s announcement he’d exit comes four months after threatening to leave his leadership post in light of disagreements with state Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron. Turner said their relationship has nothing to do with his upcoming departure from the General Assembly.

“Roy Herron and I are friends, but I’ve had problems with Roy ever since I met him so it’s not a problem,” he laughed as top members of his caucus sitting beside him chuckled. “Roy and I just disagree.”

But that’s not the reason he’s leaving. Turner said his original goal was to leave the legislature after a decade in the House unless he had a shot of becoming speaker. While he thinks Democrats can take back the chamber faster than some think, it still would leave him up in age by the time he would have a chance at grabbing the gavel, he said.

“I was a pretty powerful fella there for a couple of years. I got to do a whole lot of good things. And that was a lot of fun. I had something to say about everything,” Turner said about his initial years as Caucus Chairman when then-Majority Leader Gary Odom was on the outs with Gov. Phil Bredesen.

“And then all of the sudden you kinda move back to the back bench a little bit, and that part is not as fun as it used to be. It is fun up here throwing bombs at them sometimes, but I don’t think they appreciate our bomb throwing as much,” he said.

Turner’s hinted he won’t be the only senior member of House Democratic Party leadership to leave in coming years, namely by pointing to Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh.

“Craig’s going to be here but he’s not going to be here another 10 years, I’ll tell you that right now,” he said.

Fitzhugh said he’s right, and twice alluded to Turner’s future mayor prospects, joking at one time that Turner’s family ties in Davidson County could bode well for a mayoral run and later hinting Turner isn’t done with politics.

“He’s got a heart, there’s no heart that comes bigger. But he’s a bull. He’s a perfect person for Tennessee and I look forward to his next step,” Fitzhugh said. 

Speaker Beth Harwell said she will “really miss” Turner who played an important role for the minority party, but said she’d stay out of commenting on his chances in a mayoral race. “He has a strong personality, but he’s a good man.”