Tennessee’s oldest-ever lawmaker faces a a lot youthful contender – Memphis Native, Sports activities, Enterprise & Meals Information

One of the country’s oldest state legislators faces a much younger contender in the Democratic primary for a seat in the House of Representatives.

Longtime State Rep. Barbara Cooper (D-Memphis), who turns 93 on Aug. 4 — the day of the primary — says the constituent services distinguish her as Democrats struggle to get bills passed in the Republican-dominated General Assembly to say goodbye to Tennessee.

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“I’m kind of known for picking up the phone and getting back to people,” she told The Daily Memphian.

Her challenger, Will Richardson, a 45-year-old business owner, is hoping to win over younger voters and argues that the district needs more vigorous representation in Nashville.

“She did a great job. … I voted for her many times,” he said in an interview. “(But) people are looking for something and they want to try something different.”

Shelby County’s GOP state office candidates were outnumbered but outnumbered the Democrats

<strong>Barbara Cooper meets challenger Will Richardson</strong>“src=”https://thememphian.blob.core.windows.net/sized/84494_440″ data-large=”https://thememphian.blob.core.windows.net/sized/84494_1200″ data-largewidth=” 525″ data-large-height=”334″/></p>
 <p><strong>Barbara Cooper meets challenger Will Richardson</strong></p>
 <p>The district extends the length of the Mississippi River in Shelby County, from North Horn Lake and Westwood High School through downtown to the Tipton County border and part of Millington.</p>
 <p>Cooper isn’t the only incumbent Democrat in the Memphis House of Representatives facing a primary, but Richardson’s fundraising has been stronger than other challengers who have said they have either little or no money.  The winner of the Democratic primary is almost guaranteed to win the general election;  One independent is on the ballot, but he reported not raising any money</p>
 <h3><strong>“A Changing of the Guard”</strong></h3>
 <p>Similar to the Republican primary race between Lee Mills and Rep. Tom Leatherwood (R-Arlington), the two Democrats don’t offer major policy differences.</p>
 <p>The challenger in both races tries to portray the incumbent as lacking energy and as ineffective or past his prime.</p>
 <p>Richardson, who says he’s “right in the middle” of the moderate and progressive wings of the Democratic Party, says his campaign represents “a changing of the guard.”</p>
 <p>“We need a visible and accountable representative,” he said.</p>
 <p class=“It’s not about politics, it’s about personality and effectiveness”

He ran unsuccessfully for Memphis City Council in 2019. He owns a home healthcare business, WR Community Services, and a bar, Fat Charlie’s Speakeasy.

His campaign is largely self-financed. He borrowed $21,156 but said he spent $5,843 in the six months covered by his last two disclosures. His ending balance on July 19 was $24,102.

If he wins, Richardson said he will try to build relationships with Republicans to “find common ground that will benefit everyone.”

He said he wants to expand opportunities for jobs and entrepreneurship, bring more funding for education to West Tennessee, and reduce the burden of standardized testing on students and teachers.

Some of Richardson’s priorities will be supermajority non-starters. He said he wants to expand Medicaid and pass gun safety laws and repeal the permitless carry law. He also said he opposes the “truth in sentencing” law.

“We need to get away from … having the same people in office expecting different outcomes,” he said.

“If they call me, I show interest”

Cooper, who has held the seat since the mid-1990s — when Democrats held the majority in the state legislature — has a history of navigating primaries with ease.

During next year’s legislature, Cooper, who spent his career as a teacher before turning to his second job as a politician, plans to pass legislation to further expand Internet access for low-income Memphis and expand conflict resolution classes.

She won the 2020 primary with 66.3% of the vote. The second-place candidate received 26%. In 2018 she won 78% of the primary votes.

Cooper spent a lot more money on her campaign. She said she spent $16,160 during the second quarter of reporting, which translates to $6,517 in inventory. She borrowed $10,000.

Their greatest contributions come from organized labor. The PAC operated by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters gave her $3,000 and the Tennessee Education Association PAC gave her $2,500.

How did the Memphis Democratic congressional district survive the redistribution?

She’s not a prolific lawmaker, but she says Democrats need to gain trust in this political environment by helping residents one-by-one, pointing them to resources and making sure their cases don’t fall through the cracks of bureaucracy.

She said she has helped people access food stamps, mental health resources, parole service and more. She said she helped a family access resources after their roof collapsed.

“Once that parent calls me about this problem,” she said, “I try to find out what the problems are in the neighborhood or in the house, in the house. is it education Do you need me to help you with food stamps? Do you need me to help you get to the clinic for a toothache?”

“I can’t solve every problem, but I can help with information,” she said. “I’ll stay with them until they have someone to talk to. … When they call me, I show interest. I’m investigating the problem.”

Earlier this year, her peers honored her as the oldest lawmaker in the history of the Tennessee General Assembly and the second-oldest currently incumbent lawmaker in the nation.

When asked if this would be her last two-year term in the House of Representatives, Cooper didn’t say no. She said that before she retires, she wants to mentor and nurture someone she trusts who is active in the community.

She plans to spend her 93rd birthday – day one – on the phone getting people to vote.

“Those,” she said, “are the things that get the majority back.”

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