NASHVILLE — Lawmakers reacting to word that longtime Sen. Douglas Henry won't be seeking re-election next year said Wednesday that the 86-year-old Nashville Democrat will be missed for his charm and wealth of political knowledge.
The Tennessean reported Henry's political ally attorney Nick Bailey sent an email to Henry's supporters on Tuesday announcing the decision. Bailey said Henry will serve out his term, then "devote his full attention to the care of his wife, Lolly."
Bailey didn't immediately return a call to The Associated Press and Henry could not be reached for comment. An assistant said a statement might be made later Wednesday.
Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle served with Henry for 30 years and called him a "very respected person in the General Assembly."
"His knowledge of why we do things like we do them is invaluable and that will be missed," said the Memphis Democrat, adding "our Legislature will have to work hard to try to work without him." Kyle quipped that he'll be the longest-serving senator when Henry leaves.
Henry often held the attention of his colleagues when he questioned a bill on the Senate floor, or when the state's budget would be discussed in committee. Henry would point out ways to possibly move money around to save certain services from being cut.
"Senator Henry is one of the most honest, hardworking, genuine people I have ever met," said Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville. "He always votes his convictions and he always stands by his principles."
Tennessee Democratic Party chairman Roy Herron, a former state senator, recalled how Henry worked with the late Tennessee Democratic Gov. Ned McWherter to help the state earn recognition as the nation's best managed state for two consecutive years.
"The Nashville Democrat has led governors and legislators of both parties on a course of fiscal responsibility that made Tennessee the nation's leader in lowest debt per citizen," Herron said. "He did all this and much more while caring compassionately for Tennessee's children and all those who suffer. And he did this with a wit that could tease you ... and that often eased tensions with laughter."
Henry also garnered respect from colleagues in the House.
"While his decision means he will no longer serve as a legislator after this session, we are confident that he will maintain a leadership role in the Democratic Party and the State of Tennessee for many years to come," the House Democratic Caucus said in a statement.
Henry, a World War II veteran who received the Philippine Independence Medal, was the longtime chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee until Republicans took control of the upper chamber in 2007. Before his election to the Senate, Henry served a single term in the state House beginning in 1955.
He was later elected to the Senate in 1971, where he remained and championed public education, children's welfare and voting.
Legislative librarian Eddie Weeks said Henry's first year of the recent 108th Tennessee General Assembly made him the "longest serving member of the General Assembly ever in Tennessee history."
The last session marked his 23rd General Assembly. Henry was a close friend of the late Democratic Senate Speaker John Wilder, who served in 22 General Assemblies before he died in January 2010 at age 88.
For the most part, Henry's attendance record has been pretty solid, as well as his health.
Last year, he was taken to Vanderbilt University Medical Center for tests after he experienced high blood pressure and felt dizzy in a caucus meeting.
But other than that, Kyle said Henry takes care of himself, noting how he walks at least six laps each day on the third floor of the War Memorial Building near the state Capitol.
"He exercises, he eats right," said Kyle, adding that Henry could serve longer if he wanted.
"It's certainly not an issue of him being able to continue. It's special when someone chooses a time to leave."
In 2010, Henry narrowly beat a 33-year-old Nashville attorney in the Democratic primary. A recount gave Henry a 17-vote win.
Henry's District 21 seat represents southwestern Nashville, including some of the city's wealthiest neighborhoods.
However, redistricting has made it more difficult for a conservative Democrat in that district.
Henry has increasingly sided with the GOP over the last several years, and the final flap on a bill to hold local referendums on grocery store wine sales may have angered his constituents.
In the final days of the recent General Assembly, Henry sided with Republicans and voted for the bill that passed the Senate Finance Committee. The sponsor of the measure ended up putting it on hold until further action in the House, where the bill failed in a committee.
Information from: The Tennessean, http://www.tennessean.com