Speaking from the Shadows

If the Republican faithful out in the field thought that the “Republican takeover” of the state legislature in 2008 and 2010 had turned former Speaker Naifeh “out to pasture,” then they have another thought coming. He’s still speaking … just from the shadows.

As I have watched the legislative process unfold this year, I am reminded of the saying from an old television show, The Shadow, that began with the line, “Only the shadow knows.” Well, on the Hill in Nashville, a voice is speaking from the shadows, but it’s becoming pretty clear what’s going on.

Two years ago, Representative Jimmy Naifeh (D-Covington) was replaced as Speaker of the state House after over 20 years of yielding great power very effectively, even though we often didn’t like the “effect” of his effectiveness. But he was promptly given the power of Speaker Emeritus, to my knowledge the only person to be given that title. Even former Lt. Governor and Speaker of the Senate, John Wilder, didn’t merit such consideration after being removed by Republicans from that “office” after more than 30 years in that position. Officially, he became just “Senator Wilder.”

But this year, Republicans took an almost two-thirds majority in the state House. And the Democrats replaced their previous caucus leader with a new leader. But from what I am beginning to see, it appears that there is a different “caucus leader” in the shadows who also serves as “Speaker” for the House Democratic Caucus. It’s becoming obvious, if it wasn’t already so, that Rep. Naifeh is still leading the charge on the Democratic side of the aisle.

I noticed the other week that the opposition against the Republican-led effort to change collective bargaining for teachers was led by Rep. Naifeh. He seemed to be the “lead dog” in questioning the bill and offering amendments, and everyone else on the Democratic side followed his lead. Then yesterday, with the Democratic Caucus Leader actually sitting along with Rep. Naifeh as a member of the House Education Committee, it was again Rep. Naifeh who led the charge in opposing House Bill 368. That bill, also opposed by the A.C.L.U., encourages critical thinking in the science classroom and protects teachers from disciplinary action if they help their students develop those skills, particularly as it pertains to theories like evolution and global warming.

In fact, what we call a “hostile amendment” was offered during the committee hearing. But it was not offered by the Democratic Caucus Leader but by Rep. Naifeh, who also led the opening salvo of remarks in opposition to the bill itself.

And last week I heard that when the leaders of the House and Senate Caucus, who are elected by their respective caucus members, have their weekly meeting with the Governor, Rep. Naifeh is right there.

It probably makes sense that Rep. Naifeh is essentially the “shadow Speaker” for the Democratic Caucus and, as such, it would appear that he is still the de facto “go-to guy” for the House Democratic Caucus. After all, if I were in that caucus, would I not want a person of his experience providing input at the greatest level possible?

But if the Republican faithful out in the field thought that the “Republican takeover” had turned former Speaker Naifeh “out to pasture,” then they have another thought coming. He’s still speaking … just from the shadows.