Jim Cooper Calls Out 'Gerrymandering' of Tennessee District, Will Not Seek Re-Election

Representative Jim Cooper announced he would not seek re-election, calling out Tennessee's General Assembly for "gerrymandering" his Nashville-based district on Tuesday.

Cooper announced his retirement on Twitter. He was first elected to the House in 2003. Throughout his tenure, he governed as a centrist Democrat, often facing criticism from some members of his own party. He easily won re-election for years, running unopposed in 2020. Meanwhile, President Joe Biden won the district by nearly 24 points.

But under the new district lines in the congressional map approved by the General Assembly Monday, Davidson County, home to Democratic-leaning Nashville, would be split into three different districts, diluting Democratic votes. The least Republican of the three districts still would have backed former President Donald Trump by double digits.

Cooper called out the GOP-led General Assembly for the map in his retirement announcement.

"Despite my strength at the polls, I could not stop the General Assembly from dismembering Nashville," he wrote. "No one tried harder to keep our city whole."

He added that he "explored every possible way" to prevent the "gerrymandering" but said there was "no way, at least for me in this election cycle."

He believes his votes, as a Democrat, "certainly fueled our Republican legislature's revenge," he wrote in the statement.

"I am prejudiced, but Tennesseans are the finest people in the world. We include recent arrivals, particularly immigrants, who often have hard lives," he wrote. "I hate the thought that no congressional office may be willing to help them after I leave."

Had the district stayed whole, he still would have faced a progressive primary challenge from Odessa Kelly, who has been endorsed by Justice Democrats—a group that helped propel several progressive lawmakers to office.

Kelly, in a statement to Newsweek, also condemned the new district lines.

"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," Kelly wrote.

Kent Syler, a professor of political science at Middle Tennessee State University, told Newsweek in an interview Tuesday evening that the "aggressive" gerrymandering will make it "very, very difficult" for Democrats to hold the seat in the 2022 midterms. Even if Cooper stayed in the race, it would have been an "uphill battle" for him, he said.

"The Republican legislature basically split Davidson into enough pieces to make it impossible for Jim Cooper or any other Democratic candidate to carry one of those districts," he said.

But he warned that later in the decade, the gerrymandering could potentially backfire on Republicans—especially during a midterm year with a GOP president—due to population growth in Davidson County.

"For that to be sustainable over the next 10 years, absolutely everything is going to have to go right [for Republicans]," he said. "It could, in the end, cost them more seats than they were able to pick up by doing it."

He also said the district deprives communities of color of representation because whenever Cooper eventually decided to retire, the district "would have been very, very competitive for candidates of color."

"It could easily have become a minority-represented district," he said. "This really does deprive that community of that opportunity."

Ahead of the midterms, when Republicans hope to take advantage of Biden's low approval rating to win back majorities in Congress, several other Democratic lawmakers have also announced plans to not seek another term for myriad reasons.

Newsweek reached out to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Cooper's office for further comment on Tuesday.

Jim Cooper slams gerrymandering retirement
Representative Jim Cooper, seen above in Nashville in October 2017, slammed Republicans for “gerrymandering” his district in announcing his retirement from Congress. Jason Davis/WireImage for The Recording Academy