Jim Cooper, U.S. Congress

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James Hayes Shofner Cooper

Also Known As: "Jim Cooper"
Birthplace: Nashville, Davidson County, Tennessee, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Prentice Cooper, Governor and Hortense Powell

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Jim Cooper, U.S. Congress


Hayes Shofner "Jim" Cooper (born June 19, 1954) is the U.S. Representative for Tennessee's 5th congressional district (based in Nashville), serving since 2003. He is a member of the Democratic Party and the Blue Dog Coalition. He previously represented Tennessee's 4th congressional district from 1983 to 1995.

Early life, education, and law career

Cooper was born in Nashville and raised in Shelbyville, Tennessee. He is the son of former governor Prentice Cooper and his wife Hortense. He is an Eagle Scout. Jim Cooper attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he was a member of the Alpha Sigma Chapter of the Chi Psi fraternity, a recipient of the Morehead-Cain Scholarship, and earned a B.A. in history and economics. Cooper won a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford, where he earned a B.A./M.A. in politics and economics in 1977. In 1980, he received a J.D. from Harvard Law School.

After getting his law degree, he spent two years working for the law firm Waller, Lansden, Dortch and Davis in Nashville, then ran for Congress in 1982.

U.S. House of Representatives (1982-1995)


In 1982, Cooper won the Democratic primary for the 4th District, which had been created when Tennessee gained a district after the 1980 census. The new 4th ran diagonally across the state, from heavily Republican areas near Tri-Cities, Knoxville and Chattanooga to the fringes of the Nashville suburbs. The district stretched across five media markets - the Tri-Cities (Kingsport, Johnson City, and Bristol), Knoxville, Chattanooga, Nashville and Huntsville, Alabama - so the 1982 race had much of the feel of a statewide race. Owing to the district's demographics, many felt that whoever won the election would almost instantly become a statewide figure with a high potential for election to statewide office in the future. Cooper defeated Cissy Baker, an editor in Washington for the Cable News Network and the daughter of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker with 66 percent of the vote. He was reelected five more times with little substantive opposition, running unopposed in 1986 and 1988. This was somewhat surprising, given the district's volatile demographics. The district, then as now, was split between areas with strong Democratic and Republican voting histories. Indeed, prior to Cooper's election, much of the eastern portion of the 4th hadn't been represented by a Democrat since the Civil War. However, the size of the district makes it extremely difficult to unseat an incumbent.


Cooper has always been a staunch supporter of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the movement to loosen federal gun laws, and during his 1984 election campaign, the NRA donated a sum to his campaign that approached the legal limit of $10,000.

In 1992 Cooper was co-author of a bipartisan health-care reform plan, that did not include employer mandates compelling universal coverage. This initiative met with strong opposition from Hillary Clinton.

In 1990, Cooper was one of only three House Democrats who voted against the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. On several occasions, however, he found himself having to explain his votes to his somewhat conservative constituents.

In 2009 the Wall Street Journal wrote about Cooper's concerns about the national deficit. “It's even worse than most people think, he says, because of dodgy accounting used by the federal government...'The U.S. government uses cash accounting,' he says. 'That is illegal for any enterprise of any size in America except for the U.S. government.'” He made similar remarks on PBS, saying that 'The real deficit in America is at least twice as large as any politician will tell you. And it may be ten times larger.'”

Committee assignments

During his first period in Congress, he served on the United States House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

1994 U.S. Senate election

In 1994, Cooper ran for the Senate seat vacated by Al Gore's election to the Vice Presidency, but was soundly defeated by Republican attorney and actor Fred Thompson. Cooper received just under 40 percent of the vote. It was a bad year overall for Democrats in Tennessee, as Republican Bill Frist captured Tennessee's other Senate seat and Don Sundquist was elected governor. The 4th district seat was also won by a Republican, Van Hilleary, as the GOP gained a majority of the state's congressional delegation for only the second time since Reconstruction.

Inter-congressional years (1995-2002)

After losing his Senate bid, Cooper moved to Nashville and went into private business, also serving as a professor at Vanderbilt University's Owen Graduate School of Management.

U.S. House of Representatives (2002-Present)



When Thompson opted not to run for a second full Senate term in 2002, 5th District U.S. Congressman Bob Clement ran for Thompson's seat. Cooper entered the Democratic primary along with several other prominent local Democrats. Having not won the district since 1874, Republicans had long since given up on it; the last serious GOP bid for the 5th had been in 1972. It was generally understood that whoever won the Democratic primary was all but assured of victory in November. Cooper won the primary with 44 percent of the vote, all but assuring his return to Congress after an eight-year absence. Cooper defeated opponent Craig Schelske in the general election by an overwhelming margin.


Cooper was re-elected in 2004 against a Republican who disavowed his party's national ticket.


In the 2006 election, Cooper faced Tom Kovach, the state public relations coordinator for the Constitution Party, who ran as a Republican since the Constitution Party did not have ballot access in Tennessee at the time. No one opposed Kovach for the Republican nomination. Cooper defeated Kovach by 41 points.


On Election Day 2008, Cooper defeated Republican John Gerard Donovan 68%-31%.


Cooper defeated Republican David Hall 57%-42%.


The 2010 midterm eletcions saw Republicans gain complete control of state government for the first time since Reconstruction. This led to speculation that the legislature might try to draw the 5th out from under Cooper. Indeed, in the summer of 2011 Cooper and Nashville Mayor Karl Dean told The Tennessean that they'd heard rumors about heavily Democratic Nashville being split between three Republican districts. Cooper said he'd gotten his hands on a map that would have placed his home in Nashville into the heavily Republican 6th District. However, the final map was far less ambitious, and actually made the 5th slightly more Democratic than its predecessor. Notably, Cooper picked up all of Nashville.

Cooper defeated B. Staats 65%-33%.


Cooper is a member of the Blue Dog Coalition and the New Democrat Coalition and generally has a moderate voting record. Cooper is the only Tennessean on the Armed Services Committee. He also serves on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Despite the different policy affiliation, he became one of Barack Obama's earliest Congressional endorsers. Cooper opposed an $819 billion economic stimulus plan that passed the House in 2009, but ended up voting for the revised $787 billion final package. He is one of only a few Blue Dog members that don't seek earmarks. Cooper voted for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in March 2010. In 2009 the Think Progress website reported that a Daily Kos poll "found that 60 percent of his constituents disapprove of his handling of the health care issue."

In July 2011, Cooper was one of five Democrats to vote for the Cut, Cap, and Balance Act.

In 2011, Rep. Cooper became a co-sponsor of Bill H.R.3261 otherwise known as the Stop Online Piracy Act.

In 2012, Cooper authored the No Budget, No Pay Act which specifies that congressmen would not get paid unless they passed a budget by October 1, 2012.

Criticism of Congress 

Cooper spoke with Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig about the subject of reforming Congress. According to Lessig, Cooper explained that members of Congress were so preoccupied with the question of what they would do after leaving Congress – the most obvious career path being lobbying – that they fell into the habit of thinking about how to serve special interests rather than how to serve the public. According to Lessig, Cooper described Congress as a "Farm League for K Street".

In 2011, Cooper said: “Working in this Congress is deeply frustrating; in fact, it's enraging. My colleagues are misbehaving. They're posturing for voters back home. They're taking the cheap political hit instead of studying the problem that's before us.” In the same year, Cooper “called the partisan posturing over the debt ceiling 'an extremely dangerous game of chicken,' and said he’d 'never seen politicians act more irresponsibly than they have been recently,' over the nation’s debt.”

Personal life

In 1985 Cooper married Martha Bryan Hayes. They have three children. Cooper's daughter Mary was the Student Body President at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Cooper's son Hayes attends Groton School, and his son Jamie attends The University of Georgia.

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Jim Cooper, U.S. Congress's Timeline

June 19, 1954
Nashville, Davidson County, Tennessee, United States