Democratic Congressman Jim Cooper of Tennessee announced he will not run in November after serving more than 32 years in the U.S. House, due to recent redistricting that made a path to reelection more difficult. He’s the 29th House Democrat toor run for another office this cycle.
Republican legislators on Monday in Tennessee advanced a map that would crack Cooper’s reliably Democratic district and Davidson County, which encompasses all of Nashville, into three districts that favor Republicans by at least 15 points.
The map awaits the signature of Republican Governor Bill Lee. It could face a potential lawsuit from the state Democratic party.
“Despite my strength at the polls, I could not stop the General Assembly from dismembering Nashville,” Cooper said in a statement. “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 added he would return individual contributions he received for his re-election “so that donors can redirect them as they choose.”
Cooper won his seat unopposed in the 2020 general election. This cycle he was facing a primary from Odessa Kelly, a community organizer backed by the progressive Justice Democrats group. In a statement, Kelly criticized the “Racist gerrymandering that will erase the voices of Black and Brown voters in Nashville.”
“I am still looking into the recently redrawn district lines and charting a path forward for my campaign,” she added. “It was never about winning a particular district or challenging a particular incumbent – it was about getting a seat at the table for working class Tennesseans and having another organizer in Congress to fight like hell for our future. That hasn’t changed.”
Cooper was known as a moderate Democrat who led the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition. He served on the Intelligence, Armed Services, Budget and Oversight Committees, was chairman of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee and worked with Republican Congressman Mike Rogers of Indiana to.
He was first elected in 1982 and served until an unsuccessful Senate campaign in 1994. He ran for the district again in 2002 and has served since.
“No one is perfect, and I know I’ve made mistakes… 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,” Cooper wrote in his announcement.
Cooper’s the 21st “pure” retirement, or someone leaving Congress altogether, for, who are seeing their highest number of departures since the mid-90s, when 29 Democrats in 1994 and 1996 retired or ran for another office.
“Democrats have failed on every front and it seems their only plan is to quit before voters can hold them accountable for it,” said Calvin Moore, a spokesperson for the Congressional Leadership Fund, a House GOP-backed outside group. “Democrats have only one choice: retire or get fired.”