Welcome Home, Mr. Turkington

He was a quiet politician in a noisy political arena. He was sometimes so quiet he seemed out of place in the fractious clamor of Vineyard politics. His critics wondered in the early years if he was too timid to survive the political wars that roil the everyday life of the Vineyard, Nantucket, Falmouth and Boston. His supporters hoped his quiet reserve would translate to a strong and effective voice for his Cape and Islands district in the state assembly.

Eric T. Turkington came to the Vineyard twenty years ago as a young lawyer and an aspiring but unknown politican. His arrival on the Island was met with skepticism. He was, after all, just one more mainland politician who wanted to represent the unique interests of an Island community ten years after the Vineyard lost its own state assembly seat on Beacon Hill. The Vineyard landed in an enlarged district that included Nantucket and parts of Falmouth. Islanders feared the loss of representation and the dominance of mainland politics in local life.

It was against this uncertain backdrop that Mr. Turkington first asked for the vote of Vineyarders in 1988. He made but one set of promises to the voters — that he would try to the best of his ability to understand the special interests of an Island community and commit the necessary time and effort to ensure protection of Vineyard positions on Beacon Hill. He made the same promises to Nantucket.

Twenty years later, Eric Turkington is retiring from the General Court of the Massachusetts State Legislature. After ten terms, he has announced he will not run for re-election in the fall. Instead, he has turned his attention to another elective position closer to home, register of the Barnstable County family and probate court.

Mr. Turkington leaves the state Legislature in an age of widespread public criticism, even condemnation, of our political representatives and their failure to perform effectively. He leaves a State House too often tarnished by sleazy politics and scandal. But our representative, now at age sixty, departs Beacon Hill with his integrity intact and with the respect and gratitude of citizens he served with distinction for so long.

It is not often the electorate believes it is well served by its principal politicians. Eric Turkington is the exception. He has served the Vineyard and the rest of his district well and he will be remembered not only as the now respected and senior state voice of the Vineyard but as a friend of the Island.

Over long and sometimes arduous years on Beacon Hill, Mr. Turkington helped the Vineyard survive and even flourish in the aftermath of politcal battles crucial to the future quality of Island life. He helped turn the tide in recent years against New Bedford’s hostile takeover bid of the Steamship Authority. The Vineyard and Nantucket retain control of their lifeline through majority voting control on the Authority governing board. He speaks with pride about state support for three Vineyard libraries in a time when there is little money for even one library in most communities. He remembers the battle to bring relief aid to a damaged Vineyard after 1991’s Hurrricane Bob and the defeat of a major push to place a big state house of correction on the Vineyard. The list of his political initiatives to assist the lives of Vineyarders is too long to mention here.

But in his still quiet and unassuming way, Mr. Turkington offers these thoughts upon retirement: “Half of what I do is kill off bad ideas and the other half is to get good ideas to happen — encouraging the state to pay, to permit or to get out of the way.”

He succeeded on both these fronts and the Vineyard and the rest of his district will remain indebted to Eric Turkington for time well spent in service to constituents. He is an example of what good public service is all about. Indeed, he teaches us the power of understatement in a political world too often crippled by soaring rhetoric and excessive overstatement.

“This is one of the hardest choices I’ve had to make,” says Mr. Turkington about his retirement. “My district includes the greatest people you could hope to represent, and State House service represents a good piece of my life.”

Welcome home, Eric. We wish you Godspeed in your continuing pursuit of public service, a worthy goal indeed. And at least this time your life and career turn you closer to home and away from the distant clatter of Beacon Hill.