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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Turnham steps down, state Dems to elect new chairman


Alabama Democrats will elect a new chairman later this month after Joe Turnham informed executive committee members he will resign effective Jan. 29.
Turnham said he sent his letter resigning as chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party to state committee members on Wednesday. He said they would meet on Jan. 29 in downtown Montgomery to elect his successor.
He said the only candidate who has publicly expressed interest in running is former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Mark Kennedy.
While the committee members will ultimately vote on his successor, Turnham said "I have a high level of comfort with Mark Kennedy."
He said he has talked to Kennedy several times and that he has the maturity, wisdom, drive and intellect "to really build the party at this tough fork in the road." Kennedy is the son-in-law of former Govs. George and Lurleen Wallace.
Turnham, who has served as chairman for three nonconsecutive terms, was elected to another term last year, but said he never intended to serve very long after the 2010 election. He was first elected in 1995.
"I nearly left after the '08 election," he said. "A lot of folks knew it was going to be a very challenging cycle. They asked me to stay on and I did."
Turnham said he is ready to move on with his personal and professional life, and to turn the party over to someone else.
He has been active in Democratic Party politics for decades, running four of his father's campaigns for the Legislature, twice being the Democratic nominee for U.S. Congress, serving as a county chairman, and as state chairman. He also started the state's conservation lobby.
Turnham, 51, said he did all of that in the last 25 years.
"I am just physically and mentally and politically exhausted," he said. "It was probably the toughest cycle in two generations. ... I just know it is time for other people to step up in this environment and build."
Turnham said that last week he appointed attorney Ed Gentle, an Auburn and University of Alabama law school graduate and Rhodes scholar, to serve as party treasurer. He said that since the Legislature voted to overhaul campaign finance laws in the state that they have been assembling a "strong financial plan" for the party.
Turnham said he has been working on the transition to a new chairman for about two months.
Turnham said he was at the helm when the state elected the first Democratic governor since Wallace in 1998, elected the first female chief justice in 2006, won several other races statewide, and held the Legislature for two of those three terms.
"We've had some good times and some tough times," he said.
Turnham said the party has also helped to elect Democrats, including judges, county commissioners and superintendents, at the local level and has improved technology and outreach with its voter files.
Moving forward, Turnham said he hopes to help in several economic development ventures.
He acknowledged his time at the party has prepared him to work for a non-profit or a corporation. Turnham said he has developed some skills and "some pretty thick skin."
"The Democratic Party is a tough place to govern internally," he said, adding there are a "lot of competing factions and personalities."

-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen

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Location: Montgomery, AL, United States

South Union Street is the blog of Montgomery Advertiser political reporters Markeshia Ricks and Sebastian Kitchen. Always check here for the latest on the Legislature, elections and other activities and players in Alabama.

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