NASHVILLE — The Tennessee state Senate’s No. 2 Democrat is calling it quits and won’t run for a third term in 2014, thereby handing majority Republicans a prime opportunity to seize an open seat.
Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney, of Jackson, said he “just wanted to leave when I was ready to leave” after serving two terms and thinks he still could have won the district, which saw changes in GOP-controlled redistricting last year.
The 37-year-old attorney, first elected in 2006, said he was “proud to have worked to improve health care for senior citizens, cut the sales tax on food and provide great opportunities for young students and veterans to attend college.”
He also cited work on legislation that enabled Tennessee to win a $500 million federal grant to carry out education reforms under the Obama administration’s Race to the Top competition.
Finney had a tight re-election battle in 2014, but the lawmaker maintained that the redrawing of legislative district boundaries by Republicans last year still left him and Democrats who may try to succeed him in a good position.
“I’ve been in two terms now and it just felt like the time is right,” Finney said. “My wife and I have been giving this a lot of thought and consideration the last several months and we came to this conclusion together and it seems like the time is right.”
That drew hoots of derision from Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney.
“Lowe Finney just took a page out of the [former U.S. Rep.] John Tanner playbook,” Devaney said in a statement. “He saw we have strong GOP candidates this cycle, like Ed Jackson, and decided taking on a Republican was a losing cause.”
Devaney said “we agree with Finney that 2014 is shaping up a lot like 2010.”
Reminded by a reporter that Finney won in 2010, state GOP Executive Director Brent Leatherwood said, “that was a completely different district. The dynamics of that district are much more favorable for a Republican victory.”
President Barack Obama lost the 27th Senatorial District to Republican Mitt Romney, who won with 59.1 percent to Obama’s 40.9 percent.
Finney, meanwhile, is ruling out a bid for governor next year, but was tight-lipped about the possibility of running for mayor of Jackson, which Republicans for months have predicted he will do.
“I’m not running for governor, if that’s what you’re asking me,” Finney said.
Asked about running for mayor, Finney said, “my focus again is on my district and what folks in West Tennessee need me to work on for the next several months and that’s what I’m going to be doing.”
Republicans now control 26 of 33 Senate seats. They see Finney’s seat as well as the one held by state Sen. Charlotte Burks, D-Monterey, as vulnerable. Burks, who had a tough 2010 re-election contest in the Upper Cumberland district, has not said whether she will run again.
Finney’s 2006 race was the last time state Democrats succeeded in wresting a seat away from a Republican. The seat had been held by Republican Don McLeary, who was elected as a Democrat and switched to the GOP.
“It’s no secret it’s been tough for Democrats for the last few cycles, both in the House and Senate,” Finney said. “Sure I’d like to see more of us run, and finding good candidates who can run in those seats statewide, something I’m sure will change in the next cycle.”
He said that despite Senate Republican control since 2006, Democrats “have been able to affect policy on a pretty big basis.”
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfree press.com or 615-255-0550.
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...