Shout Out » Douglas Henry
Tennessee’s Longest-Serving Senator
Nashville native Douglas Henry served two years in the Tennessee House of Representatives in the 1950s, then left after one term to practice law.
He always had good memories of public service, so when the 21st District Senate seat representing Nashville came open in 1971, Henry decided to run. He’s now the Tennessee Senate’s longest-serving member.
And he still enjoys it, with one exception. “The excessive partisanship, I don’t like that,” Henry said.
When Henry, now 83, was first elected, the distinction between the Democrats and Republicans was simply geographic: “The Republicans and Democrats were all about saying Republicans came from east Tennessee and Democrats came out from the west,” he said. “Now we have caucuses and party positions on bills. It’s not the same.”
For Henry, a former chairman of the Southern Legislative Conference of The Council of State Governments and member of various CSG boards and committees, the goal of serving Tennesseans means working together. And he’s learned a lot through that work.
“The best advice I could give applies to anything in the world,” he said. “Always tell the truth so that your word is good. If your word is good, people respect that. If your word is not good, you’ve wasted your most precious asset.”
Henry sticks to those values when he works with other legislators.
Just ask Sen. Randy McNally, chairman of the Tennessee Senate Committee on Finance Ways and Means.
“He’s a man of strong principles and values,” McNally said. Henry’s decisions, McNally said, “are always based on the principles and values that he has.”
McNally credits Henry with is work as part of a trio of legislators who straightened out the state’s retirement system in the 1970s, when the legislature was routinely increasing benefits without considering the long-term consequences.
“These three gentlemen introduced the process of fiscal notes and funding and making sure the first years and subsequent years of the bill were funded,” McNally said.
Victor Ashe, a former Tennessee senator and U.S. ambassador to Poland, said Henry’s actions went a long way in ensuring the fiscal health of the state.
“He has prevented bankruptcy and extravagance almost single-handedly,” Ashe said, “by pointing out waste and fraud when he saw it.”
Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen said the Volunteer State is fortunate to have Henry, especially in these tough economic times.
“Committed to making government live within its means and work more efficiently, his leadership in areas like job creation, education reform and fiscal restraint serves all Tennesseans well,” he said. “If asked why he wants to continue to serve, I feel sure he’d say there is still much we need to do to keep our state moving forward, and we are very fortunate to have the benefit of his public service in that regard.”
Fiscal responsibility has been one of Henry’s passions throughout the years. The other is child welfare. Several years ago, Henry sponsored the first child abuse reporting law in Tennessee.
“I think that did a lot of good,” said Henry.
Henry is also proud of Radnor Lake State Natural Area. The lake was built by the railroad to provide water for its locomotives. When the switch was made from steam to diesel, the railroad was looking to sell the area to developers, Henry said.
Working with other legislators, Henry was able to secure funding for the state to purchase the land and maintain it as a preserve.
“You can go out there anytime and enjoy the woodlands and the lake,” he said. “It’s really quite refreshing.”
And while it preserved the land in a natural habitat, the park also offers children who live in the city a chance to get the feel of the woods and waters, Henry said.
The other great satisfaction, he said, is the fact the state has built up its reserves. “The reserves (do) give us some flexibility to deal with hard times we wouldn’t otherwise have,” he said.
After four decades in office, however, Henry said his best advice to lawmakers is this: “Be care when you say something that it’s right. Don’t speak loosely. Speak carefully so your word is good,” he said. And, he added, “lay down partisanship as much as you can.”
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