Memphis or Bust: Education Reform, Debt Management Among Issues on Agenda at Lawmakers’ Conference

One-third of Tennessee’s state’s lawmakers are planning a trip to Memphis this weekend to mingle with hundreds of legislators from other Southern states.

The Southern Legislative Conference, which is closed to the public, is chaired this year by Senate Republican Leader Mark Norris, of Collierville.

“It’s good for business, it’s good exposure, it’s great,” said Norris, who said the conference will bring an estimated $3 million financial boost. “From an economic development standpoint, selfishly speaking, it will be great for West Tennessee.”

The annual event is the 65th of its kind for the Southern Office of the Council of State Governments, which represents 15 states. The first meeting, according to Norris, was held in Memphis.

State lawmakers attend courtesy of state taxpayers who cover their $200 registration fee, a $176 daily per diem to cover meal and hotel expenses and 46-cents-per mile reimbursement to drive there.

Forty-five members of the Tennessee Legislature plan on attending the conference, which runs from Saturday to Wednesday. The list includes top Republicans like Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and Speaker Beth Harwell, along with other high-ranking leaders like the top Democrat in the Senate, Jim Kyle, who hails from the Memphis area, and House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner.

Michelle Rhee, a charter school advocate and former chancellor of the Washington, D.C. public schools featured in the education reform documentary Waiting for ‘Superman’, is slated to lead a conference session titled “Putting Students First.” She is also the ex-wife of Tennessee’s Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, who took the job this spring.

Comptroller Justin Wilson is leading a session on the state’s debt management policies. Gov. Bill Haslam is also expected to attend.

While the conference is closed to the general public, it is open to the media and is usually attended by lobbyists, according to Norris.

Tennessee’s delegation is almost evenly split along party lines between the 29 representatives and 16 senators who signed up with legislative staff to attend the five-day conference. Here’s a list of Tennessee lawmakers planning to attend:

Tim Barnes, D-Adams
Mike Bell, R-Riceville
Mike Faulk, R-Church Hill
Lowe Finney, D-Jackson
Ophelia Ford, D-Memphis
Thelma Harper, D-Nashville
Jack Johnson, R-Franklin
Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro
Jim Kyle, D-Memphis
Beverly Marrero, D-Memphis
Mark Norris, R-Collierville
Doug Overbey, R-Maryville
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville
Jim Summerville, R-Dickson
Reginald Tate, D-Memphis
Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville

House of Representatives
Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville
Tommie Brown, D-Chattanooga
Sheila Butt, R-Columbia
Scotty Campbell, R-Mountain City
Barbara Cooper, D-Memphis
Lois DeBerry, D-Memphis
Jimmy Eldridge, R-Jackson
Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby
Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap
Mike Harrison, R-Rogersville
Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville
Sherry Jones, D-Nashville
Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga
Steve McDaniel, R-Parkers Crossroads
Don Miler, R-Morristown
Larry Miller, D-Memphis
Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville
Gary Moore, D-Joelton
Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington
Antonio “2 Shay” Parkison, D-Memphis
Dennis Powers, R-Jacksboro
Jeanne Richardson, D-Memphis
Bill Sanderson, R-Kenton
Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville
Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna
Curry Todd, R-Collierville
Joe Towns, D-Memphis
Mike Turner, D-Old Hickory
Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville