Kathryn Bowers, former state senator and representative, dies at age 72

Kathryn Bowers, a former state representative and state senator, has died at age 72. She was “a whirlwind force when the issue affected education, consumers, children, the mentally ill and the poor,” according to the Commmercial Appeal. She was also pleaded guilty to taking bribes in the “Tennessee Waltz” corruption scandal.

Bowers served nearly 12 years in the statehouse — winning election in 1994 to the House of Representatives where she remained until her election to the Senate until 2005. She resigned in August 2006, at age 63, citing health concerns.

At the time, Bowers was under federal indictment on bribery charges. But standing under a magnolia tree outside her Whitehaven home, she told reporters, “My doctor offered me a choice, (to retire or) to try to continue on in the state Senate and take a chance on not being here for my children and grandchildren. This has nothing to do with the criminal case. It has to do with my health. With all that’s going on with the campaign and of course with my legal situation, I just need to get me some rest so I can figure out what I need to do next.”

The following year, she admitted accepting four bribes totaling $11,000, split with an accomplice, in 2004 and early 2005 from undercover FBI agents posing as crooked businessmen seeking favorable legislation for a fictitious company — one of a dozen defendants snared in an undercover FBI probe called “Tennessee Waltz.”

“I made a mistake. I admit that I have. I would hope people will remember all the good things I’ve done to try to help them,” she said at the time. She served eight months in a federal prison and a few more months in a halfway house.

She became active in community affairs again. In 2012, she founded and organized a brigade of 444 poll watchers to monitor elections. Bowers invited Rev. Al Sharpton to Memphis in October of that year to help kick off the brigade, with poll watchers assigned to each of the county’s 222 polling places.

…Retired House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh of Covington, who served with her in the House, said “Representative Bowers was a very conscientious legislator who knew the issues that were before us. She worked hard at being knowledgeable on whatever that issue may be at the time, and she worked hard for her constituents in Shelby County.”

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen of Memphis said, “Kathryn Bowers was a great warrior for justice and fairness and for Memphis. She served more than a decade in the Tennessee General Assembly as a state representative and state senator and was always right on the issues. She was a tireless advocate for women, the poor and underserved, and those not represented by powerful interest groups. She was not afraid to speak truth to power. Kathryn was a friend who will be sorely missed by many.”