Saturday, November 28, 2009

State Rep. Larry Turner, Who Served for a Quarter Century, Dies

Posted By on Sat, Nov 28, 2009 at 1:49 PM

State Rep. Larry Turner
  • State Rep. Larry Turner
State Rep. Larry Turner (D-Memphis), who died Friday morning at age 70 after a prolonged illness, was about as beloved as a legislator who consistently votes contrarily can be.

In an age of polarized partisan politics and lockstep party voting, the long-serving Turner’s was the one vote that was never taken for granted by anybody. As the Knoxville News-Sentinel’s Tom Humphrey noted on his passing, Turner was not averse to being on the short end of a 98-1 vote in the state House of Representatives if an issue struck him as a matter of conscience or conscientiousness.

And yet there was no showboat in him. The diminutive ever-smiling Turner was about as mild-mannered and diffident in his self-presentation as it was possible to be. He never shamed a colleague, friend or foe, merely stated his case for the record and made his vote. He was the quiet man whose voice and vote carried far.

I cannot recall the issue now, but I remember being struck by Turner’s taking a holdout position on some vote during the early ‘90s, one that caused other members to look again at the matter and vote to reconsider it. I was so impressed by the transformation caused by this mighty mite that I wrote a column about Turner in which I jokingly compared him to Superman.

A reelection campaign or two later, I went to one of his events and saw that column mounted on a board with a cartoon image of Turner, in Superman costume and cape, superimposed on it. He had a famous sense of humor, too. To employ a standard that I have been able to use on only a handful of political figures, it was impossible to imagine anyone saying, “That damned Larry Turner!”

Even so, for an incumbent who lasted in the legislature as long as he did — almost a quarter century, having been elected and re-elected for a total of 12 terms — Turner seemed always to be drawing an opponent in his district, the southern-most in Memphis and Shelby County. He always won, easily.

He and his wife, longtime local NAACP head Johnnie Turner, had for decades been figures of crucial importance and large influence in local affairs.

The last time I took public note of his studied singularity on a major vote was in August 2007 during the course of a strenuous late-session showdown vote in the House over a tobacco tax pushed by Governor Phil Bredesen, with the proceeds intended for education. It was definitely a party-line issue. Republicans were against it as a bloc, and Democrats were expected to be for it — though Larry Turner and Mike Kernell, both Democrats, dissented, each for essentially the same reason.

Neither was opposed to the tax per se; each merely felt that the revenues raised from a tobacco tax should be allocated to health care and held out unsuccessfully for a bill that took that form.

Turner was not a spoiler, though. As late as 2007, the Democrats still commanded enough of a majority in the House that fellow Democrat Bredesen was able to get his bill through. Former Speaker Jimmy Naifeh noted on his passing, “You could always count on Larry.” Indeed, in the last full term that Democrats controlled the House (2007-8), Turner had risen to the rank of Deputy Speaker.

In more ways than one, Larry Turner made a difference.


Comments (3)

Showing 1-3 of 3

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-3 of 3

Add a comment

    • Bredesen Enters U.S. Senate Race

      The former Governor, last Democrat to win a major statewide race in Tennessee, brings name recognition and the likelihood of serious support into a political arena dominated since his tenure by Republicans,
    • Cohen, 5 House Colleagues Launch Impeachment Effort Against Trump

      Among the articles cited: Obstruction of justice, improper receipt of foreign and domestic emoluments, undermining the role of the judiciary and the rule of law, and undermining the freedom of the press.

Speaking of School Consolidation


Readers also liked…

  • In The Age Of Trump, Remember The Killian Documents

    For media consumers, the lesson is, be suspicious of everything, especially if it confirms your biases.
    • Jan 13, 2017
  • Cohen Tells It!

    In which Memphis’ Democratic congressman Steve Cohen, addressing an apparent GOP effort to muddy the waters on the Russian inquiry, not only takes no crap but gives it back where it came from. This is worth watching from beginning to end -- even for those who might disagree on the politics of the matter.
    • Jul 26, 2017
  • Cohen to Introduce Articles of Impeachment against Trump

    Ranking member of House Judiciary subcommittee, says, apropos Charlottesville and Trump's apparent defense of the white nationalist fomentors there: "There are no good Nazis. There are no good Klansmen."
    • Aug 17, 2017

Most Commented On

© 1996-2017

Contemporary Media
460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation