published Thursday, October 10th, 2013

State Rep. Charles Curtiss won't seek re-election, cites 'dirty politics'

NASHVILLE — After nearly two decades in the state House, Rep. Charles Curtiss, D-Sparta, says he won't seek re-election next year because of increasingly "dirty politics" in campaigns.

"I'm worried more about my spiritual conduct than I am about my political popularity," said the Freewill Baptist Church Sunday school teacher who cited personal attacks from the Tennessee Republican Party during his 2012 reelection effort.

Curtiss, 66, said his family and fellow church members shouldn't have to put up with it.

The lawmaker was first elected in 1994 to House District 43, which includes Grundy, Warren and White counties on the Cumberland Plateau.

A social and pro-business conservative, Curtiss rose to lofty positions when rural Democrats controlled the House, serving as Commerce Committee chairman, chairman of the Legislature's watchdog Fiscal Review Committee and later as chairman of an important Commerce subcommittee.

But with Republicans now in control and increasingly picking off fellow rural conservative Democrats in recent years, Curtiss found himself under increasing fire from Democrats.

This year, the Tennessee AFL-CIO said it would no longer contribute to his campaigns after he sided with Republicans on several key bills, including Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's overhaul of the injured workers fund.

Last year Curtiss defeated Republican challenger Robert Dunham in a tight race. Democrats feared he would lose the contest after the state Republican Party blew through some $40,000 attacking him on television, radio and direct mail.

Besides comparing Curtiss to President Barack Obama, ads accused Curtiss of supporting abortion.

"They were saying I wasn't pro-life and I voted for pro-choice issues, which was a lie," Curtiss said.

Even worse, Curtiss said, there were personal attacks that sought to tie him to a scandal at the Upper Cumberland Development District in which three officials have been indicted.

"It had my momma tore all to pieces, my wife, my Sunday school class and everybody. I decided it just ain't worth to go through all this to serve," the former Marine said. "Now don't get me wrong, I love serving. I enjoy helping people, but they were bound and determined to put me on the road."

He said he doesn't blame Republican legislative colleagues but the state GOP.

Curtiss has been involved in any number of issues over the years, but he said "the greatest thing I ever did was being able to help people."

The lawmaker, who helped initiate regular prayer gatherings years ago with legislative colleagues, is popular both with Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

Curtiss said his approach to legislative dealings was framed by a magazine article he read years ago. It read "speak well of your enemies. You made them," he said. "That was such a profound statement."

As a result, he tries to avoid making anything personal at the state Capitol.

House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, said in a statement that Curtiss is "plain spoken, fair and always looking out for the regular working people.

"While some may not always have agreed with Charlie, they always knew where he stood and he was always honest," Fitzhugh added. "He loved everybody here, as he so often reminded us on the floor and in his weekly devotionals."

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at 615-255-0550 or asher@timesfreepress.com.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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