House Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh announced today that he would not seek election to another term. Here’s the news release issued by his office:
NASHVILLE – Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh (D-Covington) announced today on the House floor that he will not seek re-election to his district 81 seat this fall. Naifeh has served in the House of Representatives for 38-years, 18 of which he spent as Speaker of the House.
“Governor McWherter always told me when it was time to go home, I’d know it. After talking with my family and friends, I believe the time has come for me to pass the torch to the next generation of leaders,” said Speaker Naifeh. “All told, I’ve given 40 years of my life to public service: 38 in the legislature and two as an Infantry Officer in the Army. Now I’m looking forward to a little more time for myself and a lot more time with my grandkids.”
Naifeh was elected to the House of Representatives in 1974, after losing his first bid for office in 1972 by 13 votes. Since that time he has never lost an election. In addition to being the longest serving Speaker of the House in Tennessee history, Naifeh served as Floor Leader, Majority Leader and President of the National Speaker’s Conference.
He has received numerous legislator of the year and service awards during his tenure, including the prestigious William M. Bulger award which is given every other year to one state legislative leader who has worked to preserve and build public trust and whose career embodies the principles of integrity, compassion, vision and courage.
“In all aspects of my life, I’ve always tried to be an effective leader. I think a lot of that stems from my army training. When I came to the House, it was no different. I got into leadership during my second term with the ultimate goal of becoming Speaker. I achieved that goal and I’m proud of what I accomplished during that time.”
Naifeh is a long-time supporter of public education and places the Jimmy Naifeh Center in Covington, a branch of Dyersburg State Community College, among his most proud accomplishments. Outside the legislature Naifeh’s work with St. Jude is well known. For the past 19 years, he has hosted an annual legislative golf tournament in Nashville to benefit ALSAC/St.Jude, where he serves on the Board of Directors.
“My Dad came here from Lebanon and couldn’t even speak English! He always told me what a privilege it was to live in this country and that we had a responsibility to give back. Whether it was my work with St. Jude or in the legislature, I’ve always tried to remember that and use what power I had to improve the lives of everyday people.”
Naifeh has 3 children (Jim, Beth and Sameera) and 6 grandchildren (Sarah, Jay, Sam, Jameson, Jack and Katherine). He plans to explore future options, while spending more time with his grandchildren.
NOTE: More below, including text of Naifeh’s remarks and other news releases.
News release from House Democratic Caucus:
NASHVILLE (April 04, 2011) – Members of the House Democratic Caucus released the following statements on the retirement of Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh:
“Speaker Naifeh is now and always has been a smart, pragmatic, pro-business legislator who put people first. He rose quickly through the ranks to Speaker of the House, where he served with distinction for 18 years. His accomplishments are too numerous to list, but there is no doubt that his impact is felt by average Tennesseans each and everyday. On a personal level, Speaker Naifeh is my friend. When I have needed him, he has been there every time. While I will miss his leadership and knowledge on every issue, I will miss seeing him everyday during session most of all. I know I speak for our entire caucus when I wish him luck in wherever life takes him next. I doubt we’ve heard the last of Speaker Naifeh!”
–Rep. Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley), House Democratic Leader
“For me, Jimmy Naifeh has always been the Lebanese Lion. He has done more for the people of Tennessee than most of us will ever know. He’s a hard worker, he’s well-informed and he’s not afraid to stand-up for the issues and the people he cares about. When he goes home this fall, our caucus and this House will be a much emptier place. I will miss him, but I wish him the best in everything he does in the future.”
–Rep. Mike Turner (D-Old Hickory), House Democratic Caucus Chairman
“Jimmy Naifeh was my Speaker, a mentor and most of all my close friend. Over the years, we’ve become like brother and sister. I tell him exactly what I think and he tells me exactly what he thinks, that’s just how we work. I will miss his honesty, his integrity and the passion he brings to every issue. But most of all, I will miss him personally. Although, I bet it’s a lot quieter when he leaves!”
–Rep. Lois DeBerry (D-Memphis), Speaker Pro-Temp Emeritus
Text of Jimmy Naifeh’s prepared remarks for delivery on the House floor:
Madam Speaker, Members, I want to thank you for giving me a few minutes today to come to the well and make some remarks. I’ve served in this chamber for 38 years.
That’s a long time, over half my adult life actually. This body, this institution is a part of me, it’s a part of my family and I will always have a special place in my heart for the men and women I’ve served with here over the last three decades. But as with every endeavor in life, that which has a beginning must also have an end. For me and my service in the legislature that end comes now. I am announcing today, to you and to the people of district 81, that I will not be seeking re-election to the House of Representatives this fall. Governor McWherter, my mentor, always told me I would know when it was time to go home and I know that time has come for me to step aside for the next generation of leaders.
I was elected to the legislature in 1974. Most people don’t know that I had run for this seat once before, in 1972. I actually lost that election by 13 votes. It sounds strange now, but I was actually the anti-establishment candidate back in those days. When the results came in, they were close enough that I could have requested a recount, but I didn’t. I didn’t do that because I knew that wasn’t what was best for the people of Tennessee. And it also taught me a valuable lesson; you can’t take any vote or any person for granted. When I finally got here two years later, I kept that lesson in mind. I think that’s why I have been blessed again and again to be returned to this house by the people of district 81. Regardless of our disagreements over matters of policy, I always believed that people mattered, that their opinions mattered and that they deserved a representative who would listen to their concerns.
When I got here, I knew that I wanted to move up into leadership or I was going to go home. That kind of restlessness I think comes from my days as an infantry officer. In the army, they teach you that everyone who has the ability lead has the responsibility to do so. In my second term, I was elected Floor Leader for the Democrats. Then I became Majority Leader and later had the privilege to serve as Speaker of this House for 18 years. I passed a lot of bills during my time here. Back in those days, the Majority Leader handled all the Governor’s bills. You didn’t hand them off and let anyone else run them, you did that yourself. It was, to say the least, a nightmare for both me as Leader and for my staff, but we passed some good bills.
Talking about staff, I want to say a word about how much the staff and members have meant to me over the years. The members were always my first priority as Speaker. Whether they were Democrat or Republican, I always saw myself as the Speaker of this body, not a particular party. Now I don’t think it was any secret where my party loyalties laid and I certainly played hardball a time or two, but I always maintained relationships with members on both sides of the aisle. This is a unique fraternity. Our families know each other, my two daughters who are here today, practically grew up here with people like Lois DeBerry and others as members of their extended family. We celebrate together, we mourn together and we work together to get the job done for Tennessee. Governor McWherter, who I think you all know was my mentor in politics and in life, used to tell Lamar Alexander that he wanted him to succeed because when he succeeded, Tennessee succeeded. I took that approach with my members. I wanted everyone in this body to be successful because they had earned the right to be here. When they succeeded, the men and women who sent them here were the ultimate winners.
And our staff, we are so fortunate to have a highly trained, professional staff here at the Tennessee General Assembly. As Speaker, I could hardly wait to get to my office and Reta and Burney could hardly wait for me to get there, as they would never know what I would be doing off schedule. I had a truly great staff with Reta, Burney, Doris, Bertha and of course my good friend Victor. When people talk and make jokes about state employees, I tell them that I would put our staff up against any Fortune 500 company. That is one of the things I am most proud of from my time as Speaker. We were able to build–from the attorney’s in legal, to fiscal review, to human resources, to legislative assistants–a capable and high-performing staff. Many of the people we hired over the years are still here, not because they do a good job for one political agenda or another, but because they work hard and do a good job for the people of Tennessee. I appreciate all the help they have given me over my years here in the legislature.
It’s hard to put 38 years of service into a few remarks, but I will leave you with this thought. It’s actually my favorite quote: Power and influence are only effective when used properly. Each and every one of you has been given an extraordinary amount of power by virtue of the office you hold. What you do with that power, whether it be for the good or for the bad, is entirely up to you. I hope you will remember that people matter, all people not just people from your caucus or your party, all people. Every person in this place got elected. They represent people and ideas that have validity, that deserve to be heard and accommodated. Remember that as you go forward. It has been my privilege to serve in this body, I will miss it enormously, but it is time to pass the torch and explore other options. I thank you for your time, Madam Speaker.
Biographical sketch of James O. Naifeh:
JAMES O. “JIMMY” NAIFEH
SPEAKER EMERITUS-TN HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Graduate – Byars Hall High School – Covington, TN
Graduate – University of Tennessee – Knoxville
Partner – Naifeh Realty Company
Former President and Member of Board of Directors – Covington-Tipton County Chamber of Commerce
Member – South Tipton County Chamber of Commerce & Brownsville/Haywood County Chamber Of Commerce
Member – Tipton County Veterans Council & American Legion Post #67
Past President – Covington Rotary Club
Past President and Member – Tipton County University of Tennessee Alumni Association
Board of Governors and Directors – ALSAC – St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
Served 2 years active duty U.S. Army Infantry – Honorable Discharge – lst Lieutenant
Served in the U.S. Army Reserve – 8 years
Member of the Tennessee General Assembly (House of Representatives) since 1974
Elected Speaker of the House-97th, 98th, 99th, 100th, 101st, 102nd, 103rd, 104th , & 105th General Assemblies.
Elected Majority Leader of the TN House of Representatives for the 94th, 95th, and 96th General Assemblies & Majority Floor Leader for the 90th, 91st, 92nd & 93rd General Assemblies
Named “Legislator of the Year” by the TN Association of Human Resource Agencies, TN
District Attorney Generals Conference, TN School Boards Association, TN Court Clerks Association, TN Sheriffs’ Association, TN County Officials Association, TN Business Roundtable, TN Development District (1996 & 1997), TN Trucker’s Assn. (1999), Chiefs of Police; District Attorney Generals Conference, TN Organization of School Superintendents (2006), TN Supreme Court Appreciation Award (2006), TN School Boards Association Legislative Award (2007)
Received an award from TN State Employees Association honoring him for long term legislative support of the Association – July l990
Received NCSL Leadership Award – August 1990
Received Harry Burns and Good Guys Award from Women’s Political Caucus-May, 1993
Received William M. Bulger Excellence in State Legislative Leadership Award (2006)
Received TN Wildlife Federation Conservation Legislator of the Year Award-(2008)
Named Speaker Emeritus of the TN House of Representatives-(2009)
Past Chairman – Rural West Tennessee Democratic Caucus
Past Chairman – House Ethics Committee
Past Chairman – House Rules Committee
Past Vice-Chairman – Select Oversight Committee on Corrections
Past Vice-Chairman – State Building Commission
Former Member – House/Senate Joint Management Committee
Past President & Member of Executive Committee – National Speaker’s Conference
Longest Serving Speaker in TN History
Born – June 16, 1939; resides in Tipton County, Tennessee
Three Children; Six Grandchildren
Member – St. Matthews Episcopal Church, Covington, TN
Represents Tennessee House District #81, Tipton & Haywood Counties