On Friday, March 13, 2020, the Lanphier High School boys basketball team was scheduled to play Lincoln in the sectional championship on the Railers’ home floor. That game never happened due to COVID-19, which was heart breaking for Doris Turner.
Turner grew up in Springfield and went to Lanphier, which meant that her children and grandchildren were Lions as well during their schooling. Her son, Blake, had played for the team in high school and took over as the head coach of his alma mater in 2012.
So when it was announced that basketball would be back after a nearly year long absence, Doris Turner was ready. But then a moment she had waited for even longer arose and kept her from her beloved Lions.
“Wouldn’t you know the first game that they played was the afternoon I was getting sworn in,” said Turner, who replaced Andy Manar as the Illinois state senator for the 48th district on Feb. 6.
As big as the return to basketball has been for the six counties in the 48th district (Christian, Macon, Macoupin, Madison, Montgomery, Sangamon), Turner’s appointment has been even bigger news.
“The response has been overwhelming,” said Turner, who has heard from mayors, community leaders and constituents in the days since she was sworn in. “I’m excited for the opportunity and to be working with everyone throughout the district.”
After ten years on the Sangamon County Board and three terms on the Springfield City Council, Turner is ready for the unique challenges that being the senator of the 48th offers. Not only will she have to represent her new constituents, but she will also have an election coming up in a year, with the primary in March 2022 and the general election to follow in November.
“There were eight very qualified individuals who were interviewed for this position. It was a situation where you had to hit the ground running legislatively, but there’s also an election coming up, so you had to hit the ground running politically too,” Turner said. “I felt like my background and experience was a good intersection of both of those.”
Turner’s public service career started small, working with her children’s school when they were younger and with the Democratic Party. The common thread was her desire to make the community a better place. Eventually that desire led her to run for office herself.
“I had been involved with the Democratic Party for a really long time, working for other candidates. Then one day I just said ‘I’ve been working hard to get other candidates elected, I think I can do this, too,’” Turner explained about her start in public service. “So I ran for the Sangamon County Board and was elected.”
That experience with the Sangamon County Board is one of the things that makes the lifelong Springfield resident comfortable with serving the areas in her district outside the cities. The district she represented was partly in the city of Springfield and partly in the county, with 65 percent of her constituents non-minority.
“Even though I live in Springfield and I’m from Springfield, agriculture and farming and the rural part of the district is not new to me,” she said, mentioning the relationships she built with the Sangamon County Farm Bureau and manager Jim Birge. “I have a lot of history with working with those constituencies as well.”
The opportunity with the county board also gave Turner the chance to hear different viewpoints. At the time of her election, 24 of the 29 members of the Sangamon County Board were Republican.
“I learned the art of negotiation and the art of compromise,” Turner said. “While we differed on some things, there were a lot more things that were of common interest that we could work together on. I built some partnerships that have lasted and have really been very helpful to me.”
The common interest, making her district, her state, her country, a better place is what drives Turner to remain in politics. She was able to work with Senator Manar during his tenure while she was on the Springfield City Council and said that the dedication to constituent service is something the two have in common.
“That is the number one responsibility of an elected representative,” Turner said. “I’m sincerely dedicated to being in every part of the district, being a hands-on representative and working with each and every one of those communities to build those communities up and make the district as good as we can possibly make it. The only thing I get up thinking about every day is, ‘How can I do the best job that I can possibly do representing my constituents.’”
That doesn’t mean that she expects her constituents to always agree with her.
“I think communication is key in anything you do. One thing I will always do is make sure that everyone has all the information that I have,” Turner said. “You may not agree with every vote that I take, but I will always be able to explain why I took that vote and hopefully, you’ll have a better understanding of it and will have a different opinion of it.”
Whether they agree or disagree with her, there is a decent chance that some of them won’t be represented by Turner beyond 2022. The redistricting process is in the works for the state and Turner’s district may very well change. Many of the projections have the southern parts of her district, which were carried in large part by Republicans, changing districts. Turner says that won’t stop her from representing those people to the best of her ability for the next two years, and beyond.
“I’ll tell you the same thing I told each of those six county chairmen during my interview, I will start off working as hard as I can for you and for your counties and the people who live there. Even after redistricting, if I’m not your senator, I will continue to advocate for you,” Turner said. “I feel like they’ll always be my constituents. I look at things from the standpoint of how can we better Illinois and how can we better this part of the state.”
That bigger picture is important to Turner, who sees herself as a mentor to those who might follow in her path and someone who can reach back and bring others along with her.
Being an African American woman in politics, she has achieved many things that she never dreamed of, like becoming the first African American to serve as Sangamon County Democratic Party Chairman, being the highest ranking African American and woman in the Illinois Democratic County Chairs Association and the first African American to represent many of the counties she is now serving in the Senate.
While she is proud of those accomplishments, Turner is fine being the first, but she doesn’t want to be the only.
“I want to be an inspiration to other women and young girls to say, ‘if she can do it, I can do it, too.’ I never aspired to be a county chairman because I never thought that was in my realm of possibility. I’d never seen anyone who looked like me do it,” Turner said. “For those who have never seen anyone who looked like them be a state senator, I think that my appointment is historic for a lot of different reasons. I have ten grandchildren and it was very exciting that two of my youngest granddaughters, they’re eight and ten, were able to see me sworn in to be a state senator. Now they know that whatever they want to do, they can do it.”
Through her drive and commitment to her community, Turner has shown her grandchildren what they can accomplish. Now she will have her chance to show her constituents what she can do for them as well.