Rep. Mike Turner was reelected chairman of the House Democratic Caucus Wednesday, defeating an opponent who had promised to be less caustic in criticizing Republicans.
Turner was challenged by Rep. Johnny Shaw of Boliver, who told colleagues “I think the world of Mike as a friend, but I just don’t think he has the leadership ability.”
Shaw, who would have been the first black elected as caucus chairman had he won, said he didn’t think the Democratic caucus “has been as inclusive as it should be” but added, “Above all, I think we need a leader who can be calm, cool and collected.”
Earlier, Shaw said Turner had been too insulting to Republicans on occasion.
Turner does have a reputation for colorful and sometimes confrontational commentary. State GOP Chairman Chris Devaney, for example, has twice demanded an apology from Turner – never received – for saying that racism as a factor in Republican opposition to President Barack Obama.
“You understand that if a guy got a gun on you, why you going to cuss him out? ” said Shaw. “That’s kind of an elementary phrase, but we’ve got to find a way to work with people even if they disagree with us and even if we don’t get what we want.”
Turner said in a brief speech that “we have tried to be more inclusive” in the caucus and contended House Democrats had been successful in the November elections, given the disadvantages of dealing with Republican-engineered redistricting. And he rejected the idea of being softer in dealing with Republicans.
“Now is not the time to be shy. Now is not the time to shrink,” Turner said. “We’re not going to just lay down and be run over.”
Republicans hold a 70-28 majority over Democrats in the House with one independent. That is a six-seat gain over last session. When Turner was first elected as caucus chairman in 2008, Democrats had 49 seats.
Of the 28 seats Democrats now hold, 14 of the lawmakers are black and 14 are white. No vote totals were announced, but reporters watching as they were counted and placed in two piles could see that one pile – presumably Turner’s – was noticeably larger than the other. Also, three Democratic lawmakers – including Knoxville’s Rep. Joe Armstrong – had sent absentee ballots that were not counted after it was determined Turner aready had a majority of votes.
All other caucus leadership positions were filled by unanimous vote, including the reelection of Rep. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley as House minority leader. In a speech, Fitzhugh told the Democrats, “It’s time to claw our way back.”
Other positions include deputy caucus leader, Rep. Lois DeBerry of Memphis; assistant minority leader, Rep. Joe Towns of Memphis; floor leader, Rep. Karen Camper of Memphis; minority whip, Rep. Sherry Jones of Nashville; fice chairman of the caucus, Rep. JoAnne Favors of Chattanooga; treasurer, Rep. Mike Stewart of Nashville; secretary, Rep. Harold Love Jr. of Nashville.
The Democrats opened their caucus meeting to the public. The Senate Republican Caucus met in a closed session earlier in the day, then announced later that most current leadership positions were filled by incumbents.