By NATHAN GREGORY
Former colleagues of longtime Democratic Miss. Sen. Bennie Turner all said the state lost one of its finest leaders after he died Tuesday afternoon.
Turner, 64, had served as senator from Dist. 16 since 1993. Dist. 16 covers all of Clay County and portions of the counties of Oktibbeha, Noxubee and Lowndes. According to the Associated Press, a cause of death was not given, but The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reported Turner had a brain tumor.
He died at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.
A West Point native, Turner served as chairman of the Mississippi State Senate’s Ethics Committee as well as vice chairman of the Judiciary Division A Committee.
He was also a member of the committees of Appropriations, Compilation, Revision and Publication, Constitution, Economic Development, Veteran and Military Affairs and Public Health and Welfare.
Dist. 18 State Sen. Giles Ward said he worked closely with Turner when the two served together in the Judiciary Division B committee.
“Sen. Turner was an individual that probably all of us who have come to this chamber after him would aspire to be. From a respect standpoint, I don’t know of any peers who did not have the highest regard for him. When he went to the podium, regardless of where you were in the chamber, you gave him 100 percent of your attention,” Ward said.
He added that Turner’s ability to bring a sense of levity to issues debated in the Senate was one of his strongest traits.
“As sometimes we are prone to do in this deliberate process, we sometimes get a little excited and can think that our view is the only way to look at something. Bennie was able to shed a light on it where everyone, regardless of whether they agreed with him or not, would see things clearer than they would have if he was not engaged in the debate.”
Sen. Gary Jackson of Dist. 15, which is also comprised of a portion of Oktibbeha County, said he knew Turner prior to working alongside him in the Senate and said he always knew him to be one of the most respected members of the Senate.
“He was one of the more respected people in the Senate for his knowledge and intellect as well as his personality. He did an extremely good job of representing his district. He didn’t say a whole lot, but whenever he had anything to say it made sense that stated his position very well and succinctly,” Jackson said. “He was a champion on several fronts of education.
“We’re certainly going to miss him. There were some things we had different views on but many things we had similar opinions on and we’re going to miss him very dearly,” he added.
Oktibbeha County Circuit Clerk Glenn Hamilton, who worked with Turner during his two terms in the Senate, said he and Turner had a close friendship.
“He helped me as much as any member of the Senate when I first came in 1995. He was a person who was very mindful of his constituents and their needs and worked extremely hard to meet those needs,” Hamilton said. “It’s amazing how such a friendship can evolve out of two people with opposite views; however, that’s the case with Sen. Turner and me.”
Turner battled meningitis in 1999, but recovered from the illness to continue to serve effectively in office, Hamilton said.
“Through his determination and will, he continued to represent his people,” he said.
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who presides over the Senate, said his prayers were with Turner’s family.
“Sen. Turner fought for fairness and justice for all Mississippians,” Reeves said. “He was well respected in the Mississippi State Senate, and he was beloved by both senators and Capitol staff.”
U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker issued a statement saying he was close personal friends with Turner for three decades.
“In addition to our years together in the state senate, I served with him on the Board of Directors of North Mississippi Rural Legal Services in the 1980s when he served as chairman,” Wicker said. “Bennie … was a true public servant who exhibited integrity and bipartisanship. He led a successful law practice and was a smart small business owner. His passing is a great loss for our state and a personal loss for (wife) Gayle and me.”
Mick Bullock, spokesman for Miss. Gov. Phil Bryant, said Bryant has not set a date for a special election to fill Turner’s vacancy. According to state code, the governor must call for an election no later than 30 days after the vacancy occurred. After the date is set, the counties conducting the election must give no less than 45 days public notice before the election. Qualifying deadlines for candidates are 30 days prior to the election.
Bryant said he was sad to learn of Turner’s passing.
“I had the opportunity to work closely with him during my time in the Legislature, and I know the people of his district will miss him. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and loved ones.”
Funeral services for Turner were unknown as of press time.