Tennessee lost a good state representative and a good Republican over the weekend.
Long-time Hamilton County Rep. Mike Carter, an attorney and former Hamilton County General Sessions Court judge, died at his Ooltewah home after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 67.
It's true that on this page we don't often use the words "good" and "Republican" side by side. But Mike Carter is one our exceptions. So much so, that we endorsed him in his only two challenged elections in 2016 and 2018. He was unopposed in 2012, 2014 and 2020.
Elected to represent House District 29, which includes Ooltewah and Collegedale, Carter quickly developed a reputation among House Republicans for his legal knowledge within a GOP caucus where few are attorneys. Often addressed by colleagues as "Judge Carter," he was known for thoroughness, persistence and willingness to tackle tough issues. He also was known as a man who refused to back away from a fight over a bill or cause in which he believed. In his first four years as a representative, he voted to give home and property owners a greater voice by ending forced annexation by cities — something we could all applaud.
His opposition sometimes brought bills to a halt or prompted sponsors to make changes. Yet at the same time, he usually was willing to help find the compromise that could fix a bill's flash points.
Carter often wore his conservative ideals like a too-comfortable ball cap, but he always told us he followed his conscience over political loyalties — meaning that he sometimes didn't know exactly where's he was going to end up on a bill until he'd studied its issues.
We saw that in his votes. He voted to defund the University of Tennessee's Diversity Office, but he also once opposed a 2016 override attempt on the governor's veto of the Bible as the official state book. (In April a similar measure passed the House again, but word is it will not pass the Senate.)
Carter loved the work of being a state representative, and it showed. He was always on. He always showed up.
"I have a need to change some things," he told us in one meeting. "I hope and honestly believe I speak for those who have no power and no resources with which to purchase power. Doing the right thing is not always the politically correct thing."
We appreciated that. Even when we failed to see how it led the affable Carter to make some of the decisions he made — like pushing the state toward ending emissions testing when we know it cleans the air and saves lives; and like supporting the legislature's backward refusal to expand Medicaid or at least find and support a GOP-acceptable alternative that he thought wouldn't "bankrupt the state." (He told us not long ago that the state's whole health care disconnect was the "disappointment" of his life.)
The thing we most appreciated about Carter was his honesty. Even when being honest was hard and even embarrassing.
Like the time far too many Republicans went maskless to an annual Lincoln Day dinner here in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic. Carter was among those there, smiling for selfies or chatting at a table with his mask off. But unlike some, he fully owned up to being there. Carter did, in fact, eventually contract COVID, though not from the Lincoln Day dinner, and he beat it after a tough go.
There also was the time during the tone-deaf Trump years when Carter thoughtlessly joked aloud about a Black colleague from Memphis whom he'd called on in a committee meeting without receiving a reply. Carter said the colleague must of been busy "getting the secret formula to Kentucky Fried Chicken."
Carter, to his credit, publicly, even tearfully, apologized.
And there was the great Glen Casada fiasco. You'll recall that House Speaker Casada found himself on the hot seat over yearslong racist and sexist text messages with his then-chief of staff Cade Cothren.
Casada apologized for the "locker-room talk," and the aide resigned. Then the Tennessean reported Casada's and Cothren's alleged wholesale electronic eavesdropping in Capitol offices — even on committee rooms.
When an ethics panel began looking at the concerns, one of the panelists — our own Rep. Carter — accused Casada of trying to "rig and predetermine" the ethics review by submitting to the panel "an exonerating advisory opinion for which no ethics committee member had input." Casada eventually was forced to resign the speakership.
Carter disappointed us with his vote for the fetal heartbeat bill, for loosening Tennessee gun laws, and for ending emissions testing in Hamilton County.
But we knew that when we called or texted Carter, he would call or text back. And we knew that when we asked him a question, he would answer it. Truthfully.
We will miss Republican Rep. Mike Carter.