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VOL. 37 | NO. 12 | Friday, March 22, 2013

Ask Alice? Dream job turned upside down for Dem leader

By Robert Sherborne

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Turner

State Rep. Mike Turner (D-Nashville) has a political lineage of which he is proud.

As a 4-year-old, he recalls sitting on his father’s shoulders and campaigning for former U.S. Sen. Albert Gore Sr.

“My dad was always in politics,” says Turner. “He was a labor leader, a city councilman and he marched with Martin Luther King Jr.”

“My parents were always progressive, forward-thinking people. My grandfather was a good Roosevelt Democrat.

“As a kid, I wanted three things: to be a quarterback for the Baltimore Colts, to be a firefighter and to be a politician.”

Today, Turner has realized two of those dreams. He is a captain for the Metro Fire Department and the Democratic caucus chairman of the state House.

Given his lineage, Turner is deeply frustrated by what he sees happening in today’s legislature.

“We are cutting taxes for the wealthy,” by eliminating the inheritance tax and modifying the state income tax of dividends, he says.

“We are cutting every business tax we can. But everything we do, we take money out of the pocket of the working people.”

As troubling to Turner as what is happening on Capitol Hill is how it is happening.

Controversial measures are sometimes moved through committees in a matter of minutes, he says, never receiving a full hearing.

“It’s like Alice in Wonderland up here right now,” Turner says.

Especially irksome to Turner are changes to the state’s worker’s compensation law, which helps workers injured on the job.

The administration has said the current law is cumbersome and antiquated. It wants to change the way workers’ claims are handled.

But, Turner says, the emphasis is misplaced.

State Rep. Mike Turner (D)

Represents: District 51 in Davidson County, including much of downtown, portions of east Nashville, the Lakewood community and the Neeley’s Bend area

First served in the General Assembly: 2001

Personal: Born in 1955, Rep. Turner is married and has three children.  Professionally he is a Firefighter/EMT. He attended Dupont High School, Middle Tennessee State University and Tennessee State University

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

“Our medical costs are a lot higher than the states around us,” Turner says. “That’s why our (worker’s compensation) rates are higher. We are already at the bottom of what workers receive.”

But the new law would further trim the amount injured workers would get, he says.

Similarly, Turner sees proposed changes to the state pension system as penalizing workers.

“We are asking state workers to pay more and get less,” he says. “It’s like we’re competing in a race to the bottom.”

Turner was 43 when elected to the legislature. Despite his early ambitions, he says, he needed to wait until a seat opened. That happened in 2000 when former state Rep. Robb Robinson retired.

“I was the underdog, but I won by 154 votes,” Turner recalls.

As a legislator, Turner says, he worked to get equal pay for women and to reform higher education standards tying funding to graduation rates.

“In the last 10 years, the graduation rate has almost doubled,” he says.

He faults some of the education initiatives being pushed today by Republicans, like charter schools.

“A lot of it is being driven by profit,” Turner says.

Similarly, he is “not fond” of a school voucher proposal that would use public funds to pay for lower-income students from poorly performing schools to attend private schools.

“You can point to individual cases where vouchers have worked, but not collectively,” Turner says.

Some of his colleagues want to hurt public school teachers, he believes, although “there are some Republicans who oppose vouchers but are not speaking out.”

Personal antipathy for President Obama also underlies a key issue facing the state – the proposed expansion of Medicaid, Turner explains.

Republican lawmakers have introduced legislation to stop the expansion, as authorized in Obamacare. Without it, hospitals say they would be financially hamstrung and some say they could be forced to close.

“We need to do it,” Turner says of the expansion. “This was the Republican answer to Hilarycare in the 1990s. But they’re so opposed to Obama they’re now against it.”

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