US Rep. Jim Cooper will not seek reelection after GOP redraws Nashville congressional district
U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, the Nashville Democrat who has spent more than three decades representing Tennessee in Congress, announced Tuesday he will not seek reelection following a Republican redistricting plan to split Davidson County and upend the region's political landscape.
Cooper announced his decision Tuesday afternoon, less than 24 hours after legislative Republicans voted in the House to approve the plan to divide Davidson County into three congressional districts. The Republican supermajority's plan sailed through committees and a Senate vote earlier this month.
"You backed me more than almost anyone in Tennessee history, making me the state’s third longest-serving member of Congress," Cooper said in a social media statement announcing the end of his 32 years in office.
"You allowed me to help millions of people while representing our state capital, as well as 30 of our state’s 95 counties. Despite my strength at the polls, I could not stop the General Assembly from dismembering Nashville. No one tried harder to keep our city whole. I explored every possible way, including lawsuits, to stop the gerrymandering and to win one of the three new congressional districts that now divide Nashville. There’s no way, at least for me in this election cycle, but there may be a path for other worthy candidates."
Cooper announces ahead of August primary
Cooper said he made the decision now to allow others more time to campaign. The Democratic primary is Aug. 4. Feb. 7 is when candidates can begin picking up paperwork to run and April 7 is the qualifying deadline.
Cooper, D-Nashville, will serve out the remainder of his term, and he pledged to return individual contributions he has received for this race so "donors can redirect them as they choose."
Today I am announcing that I will not run for re-election to Congress. After 32 years in office, I will be leaving Congress next year.
I cannot thank the people of Nashville enough. You backed me more than almost anyone in Tennessee history. pic.twitter.com/C6LE31uFQC
— Jim Cooper (@repjimcooper) January 25, 2022
Through the redistricting process, Cooper pleaded with planners to keep Davidson County whole, calling a plan to split the booming area "pure folly."
"The simplest rule is if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it," Cooper said earlier this month. "We’re clearly one of the most successful cities in the whole nation. Why mess with that formula of success?"
Days later, Republicans in the Tennessee General Assembly revealed an aggressive plan to crack the county, parceling pieces of Cooper's 5th Congressional District into majority white, historically Republican 6th and 7th districts.
More: Tennessee House Republicans approve redistricting plan to divide Davidson County into three congressional districts
The new 5th will take in parts of Davidson, Williamson and Wilson counties, along with rural Lewis, Maury and Marshall counties.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Vincent Dixie, D-Nashville, said Cooper gave his "all working hard for Nashville."
"His absence, which is caused by a short-sighted and power-hungry state legislature that completely ignored the wishes of the state’s financial center and will diminish the voices of minorities in Middle Tennessee, will definitely hurt Davidson County," Dixie said.
Cooper from prominent political family
A Tennessee native, Cooper was born into one of the state’s strongest political dynasties. His father, William Prentice Cooper, served as Tennessee’s 39th governor, while younger brother John is now mayor of Nashville.
"This is a loss, both for Nashville and Washington," Mayor John Cooper tweeted following his brother's announcement. "Jim is a leader with deep expertise and a great heart."
Cooper’s congressional career dates back to 1982, when he first won election in Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District, a seat he held for 12 years. In 1994, he launched a failed U.S. Senate bid, losing to Republican — and famous actor — Fred Thompson.
Following the loss, Cooper returned to private business and taught at Vanderbilt University’s business school.
In 2002, he mounted a successful campaign for the 5th Congressional District encompassing Nashville.
Cooper is a longtime member of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of moderate Democrats focused on "fiscally responsible policies." The coalition often worked with Republicans to pass national defense and spending legislation. For instance, in 2019, Cooper supported a Republican-backed proposal to create Space Force, a new division of U.S. Defense Department.
"No one is perfect and I know I've made mistakes. I appreciate those who have educated me and helped me improve," Cooper said Tuesday. "But I am a proud Democrat who refuses to demagogue, and who chooses to be on the right side of history in order to give all our kids a better future. My votes certainly fueled our Republican legislature's revenge."
U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen of Memphis, the only other Democrat in Tennessee's congressional delegation, said Tuesday Cooper will be greatly missed.
"Congressman Jim Cooper is one of my best friends in Congress and has done a brilliant job representing his district and our state. He is smart, diligent, studious, has unquestioned integrity and honesty and is much respected by his colleagues. His voice will be missed even more than his vote. This is a great loss," Cohen said in a statement.
“Davidson County deserves to have its own voice in Washington but Republican redistricting plans never took that into consideration. The Republicans simply want that seat."
Still, even without the GOP redistricting plan, Cooper increasingly faced primary challenges from more progressive Democrats.
This year, Nashville activist Odessa Kelly has mounted a well-funded campaign supported by Justice Democrats, an organization that recruits progressives to field challenges against incumbent Democrats.
Kelly said she is studying the new district boundaries and hasn't yet decided about the future of her campaign.
"As a life-long resident of Tennessee’s fifth Congressional district I want to thank Congressman Cooper for his years of service to our city," she said in a statement. "I joined the Congressman in fighting back against the Tennessee General Assembly’s racist gerrymandering that will erase the voices of Black and brown voters in Nashville. But I know one thing is true: people-powered movements in this state have been building power for years and no map is going to slow us down."
Republicans target Nashville
Ahead of redistricting, Cooper's seat was openly targeted by national Republicans seeking to gain seats in the U.S. House of Representations in this year's midterm elections.
The Davidson redistricting split will likely make the 5th, a longtime Democratic stronghold, vulnerable to a Republican victory, furthering entrenching a GOP majority in Tennessee's congressional delegation.
Critics of the plan, including Cooper, say the redistricting split will significantly dilute the voting power of minority communities in Nashville and Davidson County. Republicans have said the plan is legal and tout how three people representing Nashville in Congress will benefit the city.
"I love the intimacy of solving others' problems. I am prejudiced, but Tennesseans are the finest people in the world. We include recent arrivals, particularly immigrants, who often have hard lives. I hate the thought that no congressional office may be willing to help them after I leave," Cooper said.
"I don't know what the future holds, but I am ready to get another job next year and make up for lost time with family an friends. I could not be more excited. Having started as the youngest congressman in America, even after my record tenure I am still only 67 years old. For everything there is a season, a time and place under the sun. My time in Congress is ending but I can't wait to start the next adventure."
Mariah Timms contributed to this report. Reach Melissa Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Jim Cooper: Nashville, Tennessee congressman won't seek reelection