2017-06-16 00:46:34 UTC
First two thirds or so:
By Steven Hale
Douglas Henry, a legendary presence in Nashville politics, a vestige of another era and the longest serving state legislator in Tennessee history, has died. He was 90.
An old-style conservative Southern Democrat, with a famous distaste for partisan politics, Henry served six decades in office, long enough to see a state run by Democrats for more than a century flipped in favor of the Republicans. Still, his retirement from the legislature in 2014 brought on high praise and even tears from colleagues, including members of the Republican supermajority.
Henry carried his childhood nickname “Duck” — for the way he waddled when he walked — all the way through his career in Tennessee politics, and indeed his life’s path was largely mapped out from an early age.
“He wanted to do everything his father had done,” Henry's sister Peggy Joyce told the Tennessee State Library and Archives upon his retirement in 2014.
Douglas Henry Sr. had attended Vanderbilt University, fought in World War I and been elected to the state Senate during Gov. Austin Peay’s administration in the 1920s. And sure enough, the blue-blooded Henry Jr., a 1941 graduate of Montgomery Bell Academy, followed in his footsteps. Following a stint in the Army where he was assigned to the Philippines during World War II, he attended Vanderbilt Law School and eventually he got into state politics.
Henry first ran unsuccessfully for a state House seat in 1952, but was elected two years later. After losing his bid for re-election, he remained out of politics through the 1960s, working as an attorney for the National Life Insurance Co., of which his grandfather had been one of the co-founders. His father’s marriage to Catherine Craig, heiress to the life insurance fortune, meant that he was born into relative wealth, and that fact is said to have motivated his decades of public service in the part-time legislature.
In 1970, Henry re-entered politics, running for a state Senate seat (on the city's west side) that he would go on to represent, uninterrupted, for 44 years.
"Douglas Henry stands alone in the history of the Tennessee General Assembly," says state Sen. Jeff Yarbro, who was elected as Henry's successor in 2014. "He served as an elected representative longer than any other person and was unmatched in the universal respect earned from colleagues on both sides of the aisle."
During his time in the Senate, much of it spent as chairman of the mighty Senate Finance Committee, Henry earned a reputation for fiscal responsibility and conservatism — he was known for combing through budgets and occasionally offering dramatic warnings to his colleagues when he felt they were wandering astray. Current Lt. Gov. Randy McNally recalled one such occasion in an interview with the TSLA.
“One of the senators had the brilliant idea that we would just raise the revenue estimate and raise them above the range which the funding board had given us, raise them enough to balance the budget, and that way we wouldn’t have to make additional cuts," McNally said. "Sen. Henry, of course, voted against that, but it passed and it went on to the Senate floor.”
When it got there, Henry took a sheet of paper and wrote “AAA” on it, before waddling up to the podium in the well of the Senate to explain the threat the fiscal scheme represented to the state’s reputation with credit rating agencies.
“Now, Mr. Speaker, I wanted to come this morning and try to talk straight to you the best I can,” Henry can be heard saying in archival audio, his Nashville drawl hanging off of every word. “Triple A, by all three rating agencies. There it is. I’m not much of an actor, but you know what happens?”
He ripped the paper in half.
“And sure enough, they passed it despite his objections, and that’s exactly what happened,” McNally recalled.
The state later recovered from that downgrade, something even the legislature’s conservative Republican leaders attribute to Henry's dedicated efforts.
“We have a triple-A bond rating in the state of Tennessee primarily because of the work of that man,” House Speaker Beth Harwell told WPLN in 2014.
There are parts of Henry’s career, however, that haven’t aged as well. It was by his request that a bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a former lieutenant general in the Confederate Army and the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, was placed in the state Capitol in the 1970s. In 1998, he led efforts to clear vegetation from the side of I-65 to ensure that a now-infamous 25-foot-tall statue of Forrest would be visible from the interstate.
The Forrest bust remains in the Capitol, despite recent efforts to see it removed. But Henry once led the charge to remove a different historic Tennessee figure’s image from those halls. In 1987, he started an ultimately successful movement to banish from the Capitol a portrait of Tennessee’s Reconstruction-era Gov. William Brownlow. Although Brownlow was a defender of slavery, he had opposed the existence of the Confederate government, was arrested and fled to the North. Upon returning to Tennessee after the war, and being elected governor, Brownlow pushed voting restrictions for former Confederate leaders and soldiers (while also proposing legislation giving African-Americans the right to vote).
Henry spoke to The New York Times about moving Brownlow’s portrait.
Mr. Henry said he does not question the sincerity of Brownlow in opposing the Confederacy, but the fact remains that Brownlow denied the right to vote to thousands of Tennesseans.
And, Mr. Henry said, he wants ''to avoid having impressionable school children come to the conclusion that we rank among our highest principles of government, worthy of emulation, the manipulation of elections, however sincere the manipulator, and the denial of civil liberties to Tennesseans, either in general or by means of armed force in particular.''
Henry also attracted the ire of liberals on occasion with his anti-abortion views, and in one particular instance, with comments on rape that sounded as though he’d brought them along with him from another time.
Explaining in 2008 why he was opposed to adding rape as an exception to Tennessee’s abortion ban, Henry said, “Because rape, ladies and gentleman, is not today what rape was. Rape, when I was learning these things, was the violation of a chaste woman against her will by some party not her spouse. Today it’s simply, ‘Let’s don’t go forward with this act.’ ”
So, what he was apparently saying was, he saw nothing wrong with an old system under which, if one of his four daughters had had a premarital affair (or had married and gotten divorced, for that matter), she would have been branded as a slut for life (no, divorced women were NOT considered "chaste" in the pre-1970 years, never mind the 1940s, unless they entered a convent) and therefore any next-door neighbor who brutally attacked her would likely never be sent to jail for it, especially since he wouldn't have been a stranger. Charming.
(about the funeral, with video)