By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – State Sen. Bennie Turner, D-West Point, known as a quiet but respected member of the Legislature, died Tuesday afternoon at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
Turner, 64, was elected to the Senate in 1992 and appointed chair of the Judiciary Committee in 1996 by then-Lt. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove.
State Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, who served as Turner’s deskmate during his entire legislative career, said the appointment was of two-fold significance. First, it was unusual at the time for a member to get a major committee assignment after only three years in the Senate and second, because he was the first black senator named to chair one of the chamber’s five major committees.
“He was a commanding presence,” Bryan said. “He was one of those people who when he got up to say something everybody paid attention.”
A spokesman for UMC in Jackson confirmed the time of death at 5 p.m.
Turner was suffering from a brain tumor.
“Senator Turner fought for fairness and justice for all Mississippians,” said Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who presides over the Senate. “He was well-respected in the Mississippi State Senate, and he was beloved by both senators and Capitol staff. Elee and I are praying for his family during this difficult time.”
Turner served as county prosecuting attorney in Clay County before being elected to the District 16 Senate slot representing Clay and portions of Oktibbeha, Lowndes and Noxubee counties.
In 1999, Turner dealt with a life-threatening bout of meningitis that severely impacted his hearing. He recovered from that illness to continue to serve as Judiciary Committee chair, but, never fully regained his hearing, and many say, never regained the same effectiveness in the Legislature he had before the illness. Still, he retained colleagues’ respect.
When Senate Education Chair Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, presented a controversial charter school bill to the full chamber during the 2012 session, Turner stood to say he opposed the legislation, but said he saw some technical flaws he wanted to help fix before the bill continued through the process.
Tollison replied he would appreciate the input.
After two terms as Judiciary chair, Turner chaired the Constitution Committee and was current chair of the Ethics Committee.
Turner is survived by his wife, Edna Walker, and three grown daughters. Funeral arrangements are incomplete.