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Turner Laments ‘Extreme’ Shift of Legislature

by Andrea Zelinski on August 21, 2012

As entertained as Democrats were watching Republican challengers pick off GOP incumbents in the primary election this month, the minority party says they’re concerned a wave of “extreme” right-leaning legislators would bad for legislative business.

But House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner wouldn’t go as far as to say whether that holds true if Speaker Tempore Judd Matheny chooses to seek the top seat in the House of Representatives.

“Judd’s kind of a mixture of things. He kind of votes for working people a lot, but yet he’s kind of out there on some of the social issues, and some of the gun issues. I don’t think you can stereotype him by any means,” said Turner, D-Old Hickory, in an interview with reporters last week.

Matheny, R-Tullahoma, has said it sometimes seems the more conservative Republicans are told by leadership in the House to take a back seat to GOP centrists.

Matheny was focused in 2011 on passing legislation banning the use of Sharia law, but the bill was eventually watered down. It’s an issue near and dear to at least some Republicans in the state. Party chapters in a handful of counties allege the governor is promoting Sharia by allowing his administration to hire a Muslim woman in its office of Economic and Community Development.

Turner says he calls Matheny a friend, but points out that Democrats have a good working relationship with sitting Speaker Beth Harwell, a Nashville Republican who aligns herself as a moderate and the governor’s ally.

Turner stopped short of backing either Harwell or Matheny for the gavel.

“I think an endorsement from me for either one of them will probably kill their chances of being speaker, so I’m not going to get involved in their politics,” he laughed.

The Republican Caucus will elect its choice for the next speaker later this fall, but that vote will have to go to the House floor, where Democrats can voice their say.

Regardless who is selected the next speaker in the Republican-led chamber, Turner suspects the growing volume of conservative voices running for office will make compromising over key pieces of legislation more difficult.

“Some of the new crop that’s coming in are not that reasonable. And they don’t believe in compromise, and they don’t believe in reach across the aisle,” said Turner. Democrats work well with current Republican leadership, he said, although only one of their signature job bills was written into law last year.

“We work with them all the time. We get mad as heck at each other sometimes, but that’s part of the process. And that’s what makes a democracy strong when you have different point of views,” Turner said.

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