Tennessee Rep. Mike Carter, 67, dies following battle with pancreatic cancer

Staff photo by Doug Strickland / Tennessee Rep. Mike Carter, right, speaks with Mike Thomas at a GOP election returns party at the Doubletree Hotel on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

NASHVILLE - Tennessee Rep. Mike Carter, a Hamilton County Republican, died Saturday at his Ooltewah home after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 67.

In a short statement on his Twitter account, his family said, "Mike lost his battle with Pancreatic Cancer late last night, surrounded by his family. We'll miss him very much. We appreciate your prayers during this difficult time."

Carter, an attorney and former Hamilton County General Sessions Court judge, had been serving as chairman of the House Civil Justice Committee.

Calling it a "truly sad day" for Carter's wife, Joan, and other family members, state Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, said, "we have missed and will miss a giant in the legislature and the community. Politically speaking, I've lost my right arm in Nashville. He was the author of very substantive and substantial legislation that made Tennessee a much better place to live and do business in."

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Bo Watson, R-Hixson, said Carter's "many acts of mercy, compassion and kindness will be missed here and across the State of Tennessee. Nicole and I mourn the loss with our fellow members of the Hamilton County delegation and express our heartfelt condolences to Joan and the Carter family."

Carter, diagnosed with cancer last year while recovering from a bout with COVID-19, was a popular figure among many GOP and Democratic lawmakers.

"When he spoke everyone listened and almost always found themselves on the right side for following his wise council," tweeted state Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains.

Republican Gov. Bill Lee said in a statement on Twitter that "I will miss Mike Carter who was a leader, friend and brother in Christ. Maria and I pray for the Carter family and we give thanks to his life."

Praising Carter for his religious faith and service, state House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, described Carter as an "effective and dedicated public servant" and offerered "our deepest sympathies to the Carter family during this difficult time."

(Read more: The terrifying journey through COVID-19 and back for Rep. Mike Carter of Ooltewah)

Carter was first elected to represent House District 29, which includes Ooltewah and Collegedale, in 2012. A lifelong Ooltewah resident, he graduated from Ooltewah High School and later earned a bachelor's degree at Middle Tennessee State University and then his law degree from the University of Memphis.

He practiced law for decades, representing various interests with clients including the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office until his appointment as a Hamilton County General Sessions judge by then-Gov. Don Sundquist in 1997. He stepped down from that post in 2005, but returned to government service to work for then-Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey as a special assistant. He later worked for Cleveland, Tenn.-based Life Care Centers of America.

After winning an unopposed race for the House District 29 seat in 2012, Carter developed a reputation among House Republicans for his legal knowledge within a GOP Caucus where there are few representatives who are attorneys. Often addressed affectionately as "Judge Carter" by colleagues, Carter was known for thoroughness, persistence, a willingness to tackle thorny issues and his refusal to back off from a fight over a bill or cause he believed in. His opposition to a bill could sometimes successfully torpedo the measure or cause sponsors to make changes. But at the same time, he usually was willing to help colleagues fix the problems if possible.

Among his victories were new restraints on Tennessee towns and cities' abilities to annex new areas without consent from those affected as well as new civil-asset forfeiture requirements for law enforcement in order to provide more protections for people whose cash and property were improperly seized with no criminal charges ever filed. The annexation battles lasted several years with Carter and Watson, who sponsored the legislation in the Senate, both refusing to give up until they got a bill passed.

Carter teamed up with Gardenhire on the civil asset forfeiture measure, while Carter and Watson successfully pushed a bill to require the state to apply to the federal Environmental Protection Agency for permission to halt vehicle emissions testing in Hamilton and five other counties. A decision is pending.

In 2019, when then-House Speaker Glen Casada, R-Franklin, was engulfed in controversy over lewd and racist texts with a top aide, Carter, a member of the House Ethics Committee, refused to sign what he called a "predetermined" ethics report on the speaker. He called on Casada to resign, helping lead to a later no-confidence vote by the GOP Caucus and, ultimately, Casada's downfall.

Carter later ran for the GOP Caucus' nomination for speaker in a multi-candidate field, but the nomination ultimately was won by Sexton, who was elected speaker by the GOP-controlled House.

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, the Republican Senate speaker, praised Carter as "an excellent public servant and a great man. He provided wise counsel to his colleagues and displayed fierce loyalty to his friends."

Among others mourning Carter's loss was U.S. Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tennessee, a former state economic and community development commissioner Carter actively campaigned for during the then-candidate's 2020 Senate GOP primary.

"My thoughts and prayers are with Judge Mike Carter's family," Hagerty said. "He was a close friend and strong leader for Tennessee. He will be missed dearly."

In addition to his wife, Joan, Carter is survived by sons Stephen and Tim Carter. Funeral arrangements will be announced.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 616-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.