House Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh, once one of the most powerful politicians in the state, said Thursday he will not run for reelection in November after 38 years as a lawmaker.
With Republicans now dominating the legislature, Naifeh, who is 72, became the fifth Democrat in the House to announce retirements this session. Four Democratic senators have announced they won’t seek re-election.
“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,” Naifeh said on the House floor.
Naifeh was the longest-serving House speaker in Tennessee history, serving in that position from 1991 until 2009. He is perhaps best known across the state as one of the leading advocates for a state
income tax in 2002. That effort failed and cost Democrats in later elections.
Republicans won a 64-member House majority in 2010. This year during redistricting, they redrew Naifeh’s district, taking away Democratic-leaning Haywood County and leaving only his home county of Tipton — an increasingly Republican Memphis suburb.
“It’s hard to put 38 years of service into a few remarks, but I will leave you with this thought,” Naifeh said. “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.”