James O. Naifeh
Speaker of the House of Representatives James O. "Jimmy" Naifeh.
Former Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives James O. Naifeh was born in 1939 and raised in Covington. He attended local public schools, graduating from Byars Hall High School, and went on to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where he took a B.S. degree in 1961. Naifeh next served in the U.S. Army Infantry, with the rank of first lieutenant, from 1962 to 1964.
After his military service was completed, Naifeh returned to Covington and entered the grocery business and other retail concerns. Taking an active role in local and regional economic development, he has served as president of the Covington/Tipton County Chamber of Commerce and the Covington Rotary Club as well as serving on the boards of First State Bank of Covington, the Tennessee Wholesale Grocers, ALSAC-St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, and other institutions.
Naifeh’s state political career began in 1974 when he successfully campaigned as Democratic candidate for the Eighty-first District seat in the Tennessee House of Representatives. From 1975 to 2013 he continuously served that district, compiling an impressive record of achievement and leadership. He was past chair of the House Ethics and House Rules committees; the Democratic majority floor leader during the Ninetieth through Ninety-third General Assemblies; and the Democratic majority leader from the Ninety-fourth through Ninety-sixth General Assemblies. He became Speaker of the House in the Ninety-seventh General Assembly in 1991.
Naifeh lost the speaker’s gavel in 2009 following the GOP’s takeover of the House by one seat, but he had time to organize one last coup. Before the vote for speaker was taken, Naifeh declared that the vote would proceed not only one member at a time but also divided by political party, with all 49 Democrats voting in alphabetical order followed by all of the Republicans in alphabetical order. Faced with the prospect of Majority Leader Jason Mumpower (R-Bristol) leading the body, all 49 Democrats, presumably under direction from Naifeh, voted for Republican Kent Williams, a more palatable option to them. Williams, last in alphabetical order among the GOP caucus, was faced with a 49–49 tie and a decision: to vote for Mumpower or to vote for himself. He voted for himself, writing a dramatic conclusion to Naifeh’s tenure as speaker. Naifeh retired from the legislature in 2013.
Many different agencies and institutions commended Naifeh over the years for his legislative record. In 1990 he received the NCSL Leadership Award and the Caribe Award from the Tennessee State Employees Association. In 1993 he was awarded the Harry Burn Award. Several statewide organizations have honored Naifeh as Tennessee Legislator of the Year, and the Tennessee Women's Political Caucus named him the first recipient of its “Good Guys” Award.
Published » December 25, 2009 | Last Updated » March 21, 2017