By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Longtime Sen. Douglas Henry said Wednesday that his health and the high cost of campaigning were factors in his decision not to seek re-election next year, even though he believes he could win if he did run.
The 86-year-old Nashville Democrat officially met with reporters about a week after his campaign manager sent an email to Henry’s supporters last week announcing his decision.
Henry, who turns 87 this month, said he had been disregarding his doctor’s request that he not run again but finally decided to heed his advice. He also said the amount of money he spent on his 2010 election was “obscene.”
“If I told y’all how much money it cost to get elected last time, you’d never believe it,” he said. (Note: His campaign expenditures for the 2010 cycle were about $582,000.)
That year, Henry narrowly beat a 33-year-old Nashville attorney in the Democratic primary. A recount gave Henry a 17-vote victory.
Henry’s District 21 seat represents southwestern Nashville, including some of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods.
However, redistricting has made it more difficult for a conservative Democrat in that district.
If he were to run again, Henry believes he could win because even though redistricting has removed some of the wealthier parts of the old district, “it’s added a lot of people who are neither rich nor poor.”
“I think what I’ve tried to do over the years would be appealing to such folks, and I believe I could win again,” he said. “But it cost so much, and I don’t want to die from it. I’d be digging my own grave if I keep this up.”
Henry’s first year of the recent 108th Tennessee General Assembly made him the “longest serving member of the General Assembly ever in Tennessee history,” according to legislative librarian Eddie Weeks.
Henry, a World War II veteran who received the Philippine Independence Medal, was the longtime chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee until Republicans took control of the upper chamber in 2007. Before his election to the Senate, Henry served a single term in the state House starting in 1955.
He was later elected to the Senate in 1971, where he remained and championed public education, children’s welfare and voting. He said measures he sponsored that he’s most proud of include abuse reporting laws for children and the elderly, and the establishment of the rainy day fund.
Henry has increasingly sided with the GOP over the last several years, and the final flap on a bill to hold local referendums on grocery store wine sales may have angered his constituents.
In the final days of the recent General Assembly, Henry sided with Republicans and voted for the bill that passed the Senate Finance Committee. The sponsor of the measure ended up putting it on hold until further action in the House, where the bill failed in a committee.
When asked by a reporter on Wednesday how he’s managed to get along so well with both Democrats and Republicans, Henry quoted one his heroes, Thomas Jefferson, who said “parties are detrimental to good government.”
“If you let party get ahead of what you’re here for, it gets in the way of what you’re supposed to be doing,” Henry said.