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U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper’s decision to retire from Congress means a loss of institutional knowledge, service and influence for Tennesseans.
But more, this marks the end of the career of a politician who chooses public service and bipartisan cooperation over hyper-partisanship, measured statements over hyperbole, and the ability to evolve politically when faced with new facts.
This is becoming rarer in polarized America, but Tennessee was historically famous for its moderate politicians on both the right and left who acted and spoke in civil ways to advance ideas even if they disagreed on the issues.
Cooper is the latest statesman to retire in recent years
When Cooper, a Democrat of Nashville, announced his retirement on Tuesday, it was unexpected but not surprising.
The Republican-led Tennessee General Assembly split Davidson County into three congressional districts. Cooper made a political calculation that running in a district that linked a portion of deep blue Nashville to deep red rural counties would put him in a vulnerable position.
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Cooper is the most recent of statesmen to retire from Congress from the Volunteer State after long distinguished careers.
Republican Senators Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander retired in 2019 and 2021, respectively, after a combined 30 years in the U.S. Senate.
They were known to work across the aisle to find solutions to extraordinary problems facing America.
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Cooper's successor should seek to unite citizens
One of Cooper’s most significant votes of late was on the bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure law that will fix roads and bridges, connect more people online, and pave the future of transportation.
This is not a Democratic nor a Republican win – it’s an American win.
Cooper is dedicated, disciplined and brilliant and he has served the constituents of Tennessee’s District 5 honorably for nearly two decades. He previously served District 4 citizens from 1983 to 1995.
The next District 5 member of Congress should be someone who can connect with and unite residents in red rural areas and blue urban areas.
Tennessee needs more public servants in the future who will embody good character and conduct, choose rhetoric that uplifts and not divides, and display a commitment to serve all citizens, regardless of political affiliation.
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Tennessee needs people who can model healthy debate and disagreement and a commitment to bringing marginalized voices to the table.
Regardless of his politics, Cooper has proved to be accessible, to serve constituents’ needs and to be an advocate for citizens engaging with their government at the voting booth or the Capitol.
He deserves citizens’ thanks for his honest, tireless and loyal service to Tennessee. May he be a model for his successor.
Opinion and Engagement Director David Plazas wrote this editorial on behalf of The Tennessean Editorial Board, comprising Michael A. Anastasi, Maria De Varenne, Mealand Ragland-Hudgins, Gary Estwick and Plazas. Call him at (615) 259-8063, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet to him at @davidplazas.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Jim Cooper, thank you for your service in Congress