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State Rep. Chris Turner won’t run for House Democratic Caucus chair again

By James Barragán, The Texas Tribune

State Rep. Chris Turner won’t run for House Democratic Caucus chair again” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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State Rep. Chris Turner of Grand Prairie said Thursday he will not seek another term as chair of the House Democratic Caucus, which he has led for three legislative sessions.

Turner, who slowly made his plans known to other House Democrats, will announce his decision Thursday afternoon at a meeting during the caucus’ annual retreat.

“After six years, three [legislative] sessions and four special sessions and a variety of noteworthy events, I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished,” Turner said in an interview. “I’m looking forward to spending some of my time on other endeavors and giving someone else the chance to build on what we’ve built to date.”

Turner, who was first elected to the House in 2008, is unopposed in his general election this year and will continue to represent his district in the next session. He said he was telling caucus members his news now so that other Democrats could consider if they wanted to be the caucus’ next leader.

Turner first took the helm of the Democratic Caucus in 2017 as Republican legislative leaders were pushing for a ban on sanctuary cities and a bill that would dictate which bathrooms transgender Texans could use. With the help of business interests, Democrats pushed back on the bill targeting transgender Texans but Republicans passed the sanctuary cities bill.

The following session, Democrats picked up 12 seats in the House, and Republican leaders felt compelled to stay away from red meat social issues and focus on kitchen table issues like property taxes and public school finance. Democrats worked with Republicans on a widely hailed public school finance bill while Turner and the caucus negotiated with Republican leaders on how to handle more controversial topics like abortion, LGBTQ issues, Confederate monuments and paid sick leave ordinances passed by cities.

At the end of that session, Democrats and Republicans in the House said they had worked in a bipartisan way to make lives better for the people of Texas.

But after Republicans held off a Democratic House takeover in 2020, GOP lawmakers felt voters had given them a mandate and pushed bills on controversial social issues like abortion, gun laws and dictating what teams transgender student athletes should play on.

“It was a lot of defense because the Legislature was held captive to Greg Abbott‘s far-right extreme agenda and we responded accordingly with every way we know how,” Turner said. “It’s cyclic. My hope is next session will be more focused on issues our constituents really care about and less on these culture wars.”

Turner, who is white, at times faced questions from within the caucus over whether he was the best person to lead a group made up of mostly people of color. He was also criticized for being too willing to negotiate with Republican leaders who more progressive members of the caucus said were giving Democrats a raw deal.

In 2018, state Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, announced she would run against him for caucus chair. In her announcement, she said she didn’t run for the Legislature to “fight losing battles or sit on the sideline” and promised a “new playbook.” She later abandoned her candidacy for the leadership position and was put in charge of the caucus’ campaign committee in 2020. In 2021, state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, ran against Turner.

Turner said he was proud that the caucus had raised record fundraising hauls and had brought on multiple full-time staff members to help lawmakers navigate issues. He said he was looking forward to the caucus’ next leader and would help “him or her and be available in any way I can be helpful.”

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