Stories about Tennessee

Rep. Barbara Cooper, Tennessee’s oldest serving lawmaker, dies

Tennessee Rep. Barbara Cooper (D) died on Oct. 25, 2022.

Cooper was first elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives in 1996. According to U.S. News & World Report, she was the oldest serving lawmaker in Tennessee history. Cooper most recently ran for election in 2020, winning with 72.7% of the vote.

If there is a vacancy in the Tennessee General Assembly, there are two ways a vacancy can be filled. When 12 months or more remain in an unfilled term, a special election must be held within the allowable time frame set by law. If fewer than 12 months remain in a term, members of the legislative body in the county that the vacancy occurred must vote on a replacement.

As of Nov. 1, there have been 132 state legislative vacancies in 42 states during 2022. Sixty-two of those vacancies have been filled. Of the 132 vacancies, 68 are Democratic and 62 are Republican. Democrats have filled 36 vacancies, while Republicans have filled 25.

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Measures to repeal constitutional language on slavery and indentured servitude as criminal punishments are on the ballot in five states this November

On November 8, 2022, voters in five states—Alabama, Louisiana, Oregon, Tennessee, and Vermont—will decide on amending their state constitutions to repeal language regarding the use of slavery or indentured servitude as punishment for a crime, or, in the case of Vermont, for the payments of debts, damages, fines, costs.

The ballot questions are below:

  1. Alabama Recompiled Constitution Ratification Question: Ratifies an updated and recompiled state constitution, which was adopted by the legislature following voter approval of Amendment 4 in 2020. The proposed constitution repeals language that provides for involuntary servitude as a criminal punishment.
  2. Louisiana Amendment 7: Removes language in the state constitution that provides for slavery and involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime and instead says that slavery and involuntary servitude are prohibited, except that this cannot be applied to otherwise lawful administration of criminal justice.
  3. Oregon Measure 112: Repeals language providing for slavery or involuntary servitude as criminal punishments.
  4. Tennessee Amendment 3: Repeals language providing for slavery or involuntary servitude as a criminal punishment.
  5. Vermont Proposal 2: Repeals language stating that persons could be held as servants, slaves, or apprentices with the person’s consent or “for the payments of debts, damages, fines, costs, or the like” and adds language saying that “slavery and indentured servitude in any form are prohibited.”

The Thirteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution—which was ratified on December 6, 1865—prohibited slavery and involuntary servitude in the United States, except as a punishment for those convicted of crimes. The text of the Thirteenth Amendment reads:

1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

As of 2022, 10 state constitutions included provisions prohibiting enslavement and involuntary servitude but with an exception for criminal punishments, while nine states had constitutions that included provisions permitting involuntary servitude, but not slavery, as a criminal punishment.

The states with constitutions that include provisions regarding slavery and involuntary servitude as a criminal punishment are Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.

The states with constitutions that include provisions regarding involuntary servitude, but not slavery, as criminal punishment, are Alabama, California, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, North Carolina, and Ohio.

Vermont is the only state that has a constitutional provision regarding involuntary servitude to pay a debt, damage, fine, or cost.

Nebraska, Utah, and Colorado put measures on the ballot to remove language from their state constitutions regarding the use of slavery and involuntary servitude as criminal punishments. These amendments were approved in Nebraska and Utah in 2020, and in Colorado in 2018.

All candidates for Tennessee House of Representatives District 26 complete Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey

Both of the candidates running in the November 8, 2022, general election for Tennessee House of Representatives District 26 —incumbent Greg Martin (R) and Allison Gorman (D) — completed Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey. These survey responses allow voters to hear directly from candidates about what motivates them to run for office.

Eighty-eight of the country’s 99 state legislative chambers will hold regularly scheduled elections in 2022. The Republican Party controls both chambers of Tennessee’s state legislature. Tennessee is one of 23 states with a Republican trifecta.

Here are excerpts from candidates’ responses to the question: What areas of public policy are you personally passionate about?            


  1. “Public Safety – I am committed to safe homes, neighborhoods, and schools. Those that protect us deserve the best equipment, good benefits, and a fair wages.”
  2. “Economic Development/Jobs – I am a committed capitalist. Government has a responsibility to provide roads, schools, sewers, and other infrastructure where businesses can thrive to provide economic opportunity for our citizens. I know that more people realize the American Dream from Main Street than Wall Street.”
  3. “Public Education – The best schools are the ones where parents are engaged in their children’s education. Parents need numerous choices in public education for their family.”


  1. “Everyone in Tennessee has seen or personally experienced the medical and financial damage caused by lack of access to health care.”
  2. “Tennessee has been disinvesting from public schools for years. That’s economically disastrous. When we give our children a good education, we put them on track to become successful adults: the skilled workers who attract major employers, the entrepreneurs who start new businesses, the visionaries who lift up communities.”
  3. “People are disgusted with government, and D26 offers the perfect example of why. First, it’s not an extreme right-wing district—on the contrary, it’s politically diverse—but the laws pushed and passed by our state reps have been extreme, completely out of step with the majority of constituents.”

Click on candidates’ profile pages below to read their full responses to this and other questions.

  1. Greg Martin
  2. Allison Gorman

We ask all federal, state, and local candidates with profiles on Ballotpedia to complete a survey and share what motivates them on political and personal levels. Ask the candidates in your area to fill out the survey.

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Tennessee House of Representatives election, 2022

Parents sue Tennessee school district over curriculum including race and gender topics

A parent group on July 8, 2022, filed a lawsuit in the Twenty-First Judicial District against Tennessee education officials and the Williamson County school district for allegedly violating state laws restricting teachings on race and gender.

Tennessee House Bill 580 aims to prohibit school districts from incorporating materials into the curriculum that portray the United States as racist or sexist, or that make students feel uncomfortable because of their race or sex. Parents’ Choice Tennessee, the parent group, claims the school district’s English/language arts curriculum contains what the group considers to be age-inappropriate material that discusses topics of race. The group is seeking for the school district to permanently remove the curriculum. 

Trisha Lucente, a plaintiff in the lawsuit and the founder of Parents’ Choice Tennessee, said that she would prefer a “true English Language Arts curriculum that teaches phonics, classical literature, and is free of any politics or political agenda,” according to Education Week.

Jennifer Cortez, co-founder of an organization that advocates for students of color in the school district, disagreed with  Lucente’s claims by sharing, “[m]y daughter went through these Civil Rights modules and didn’t feel one ounce of white guilt about it. She just felt sad that that happened. Meanwhile, our students of color are dealing with actual harassment.”

The case was pending before Tennessee’s Twenty-First Judicial District as of August 5, 2022. Tennessee as of 2021 was one of 17 states that had imposed restrictions on curriculum material in public schools concerning topics such as race, gender, and sexual orientation.

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Federal judge blocks Biden administration guidance on transgender students

A federal judge from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee on July 15, 2022, struck down a Department of Education order that aims to protect transgender students and workers from discrimination. 

The Biden administration released the challenged guidance in response to recent legislation passed by states that aim to bar transgender students from participating on school sports teams and using bathrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity. The guidance states transgender students are protected under Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on sex at federally funded schools. It also claims that transgender workers are protected under Title VII, which bars employers from discriminating based on race, color, religion, sex, and/or national origin. The department in June issued a proposed rule seeking to codify parts of the guidance. 

Tennesse and 19 other Republican-led states brought a lawsuit against the federal government last August, asserting the Department of Education overreached its executive authority by issuing the order. The states claim in part that the department’s guidance infringes on state power in violation of the Tenth Amendment.

Judge Charles Atchley, a Trump appointee, ruled the department overreached its authority in order to penalize states for their recent legislation. In a preliminary injunction, Judge Atchley wrote, “[T]he harm alleged by plaintiff States is already occurring – their sovereign power to enforce their own legal code is hampered by the issuance of defendants’ guidance and they face substantial pressure to change their state laws as a result.”

In response to the ruling, Joni Madison, the Human Rights Campaign’s interim president, said, “Nothing in this decision can stop schools from treating students consistent with their gender identity. And nothing in this decision eliminates schools’ obligations under Title IX or students’ or parents’ abilities to bring lawsuits in federal court.” 

Additional reading:

United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee

Charles Atchley

Tennessee has its fewest contested state legislative primaries in five election cycles

Tennessee has 36 contested state legislative primaries this year, 16% of the total number of possible primaries, and a 5% decrease from 2020.

This is the fewest contested state legislative primaries in Tennessee over the past five election cycles.

A primary is contested when more candidates file to run than there are nominations available, meaning at least one candidate must lose.

Of the 36 contested primaries, 11 are for Democrats and 25 are for Republicans. For Democrats, this is down from 14 in 2020, a 21% decrease. For Republicans, the number increased 4% from 24 in 2020.

Fifteen contested primaries feature an incumbent, representing 15% of all incumbents who filed for re-election. This is the lowest rate of incumbents in contested primaries over the past five election cycles in the state.

Five of the incumbents in contested primaries are Democrats, and 10 are Republicans.

Overall, 214 major party candidates—79 Democrats and 135 Republicans—filed to run. All 99 House districts and 17 of the state’s 33 Senate districts are holding elections.

Seventeen of those districts are open, meaning no incumbents filed to run. This guarantees at least 15% of the districts holding elections will be represented by newcomers next year.

Tennessee has had a Republican trifecta since 2010 when the party won control of the governorship. Republicans currently hold a 72-24 majority in the House, which has one vacant district, and a 27-6 majority in the Senate.

Tennessee’s state legislative primaries are scheduled for Aug. 9, the 11th statewide primary date of the 2022 state legislative election cycle.

Additional reading:

Tennessee House of Representatives elections, 2022

Tennessee State Senate elections, 2022

Previewing Tennessee’s August 4 local ballot measures

Voters in Nashville and Memphis are heading to the polls on August 4 to decide on five amendments to their cities’ charters.

Memphis voters will decide on one charter amendment. If passed, the Memphis measure would increase the term limits of the city council and mayor to three 4-year terms rather than the current two 4-year term limit, allowing them a maximum length in office of 12 years. In 2018, Memphis voters rejected a similar proposal, Ordinance No. 5676, which would have increased the term limits as well. It was defeated by a margin of 60.14% against to 39.86% in favor.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and Councilman Martavius Jones support the measure, arguing that another term would allow them to continue their progress and learn more about the mechanics of the offices they hold. Mayor Strickland said, “If the referendum passes, I will run for a third term. Our team has improved city services, and although we have implemented changes that have improved Memphis, there is more to be done and more to fight to achieve.” Michael Nelson, a political analyst for the Memphis-based Action News 5, called the measure a power grab by Memphis officeholders desiring to keep their positions.

Nashville voters will decide on four charter amendments. Charter Amendment 1 would change the number of signatures required for an initiated charter amendment from 10% of votes at the last general election to 10% of registered voters. This would increase the number of required signatures for proposed charter amendments to qualify for the ballot. Additionally, it defines the duties of the Charter Revision Commission, which must review all proposed charter amendments. Metro Councilmember Bob Mendes supports the measure. He said it’s a solution to reduce “litigation costs and uncertainty related to referendums in Nashville.” 

Nashville Charter Amendment 2 would change the physical qualifications for police officers on the Metro Nashville Police. The qualifications are currently based on Army and Navy requirements. MNPD Member Michael Vaughn characterizes them as outdated because the police force is “getting away from being so militaristic.” The Metro Civil Service Commission would designate new standards if the amendment passes.

Nashville Charter Amendment 3 would establish a metropolitan board of health to oversee the metro public health department. It would set new guidelines for who must sit on the board of health, namely, “one doctor, one mental health expert, one nurse, two other medical professionals, and two non-medical professionals.” The chief medical director position would be renamed the director of health. It also would remove the existing requirement for the director of health to be a medical doctor.

Nashville Charter Amendment 4 establishes a city Department of Transportation and a director of transportation in the charter. The department was created a year ago with the adoption of the Metro Nashville Transportation Plan. It replaced the city’s Department of Public Works.

Early voting has begun and ends on July 30. On election day, polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Thirty-six candidates are running for the U.S. House from Tennessee

The filing deadline for candidates running for Congress in Tennessee this year was April 7, 2022. Thirty-six candidates are running for Tennessee’s nine U.S. House districts, including 13 Democrats and 23 Republicans. That’s four candidates per district, less than the five candidates per district in 2020 and the 5.44 in 2018.

Here are some other highlights from this year’s filings:

  • This is the first election to take place under new district lines following the 2020 census. Tennessee was apportioned nine districts, the same number it was apportioned after the 2010 census.
  • The 36 candidates running this year are the fewest candidates running for Tennessee’s U.S. House seats since 2012, when 36 candidates ran as well. Forty-five candidates ran in 2020, 49 in 2018, 48 in 2016, and 39 in 2014.
  • One district—the 5th—is open. That’s down from two open seats in 2020, 2018 and 2016. There were no open seats in 2014 or 2012. 
  • Rep. Jim Cooper (D), who represents the 5th district, is retiring. 
  • Ten candidates—one Democrat and nine Republicans—are running to replace Cooper, the most candidates running for a seat this year.
  • There are eight contested primaries this year—four Democratic and four Republican. That’s the same number as in 2020 and five fewer than in 2018, when there were 13 contested primaries. There were ten contested primaries in 2016, 11 in 2014, and ten in 2012. 
  • Five incumbents—all Republicans—are not facing any primary challengers.
  • Republican and Democratic candidates filed to run in all nine districts, so no seats are guaranteed to either party this year.

Tennessee is holding its congressional primaries on August 4, the 36th state to do so. Winners in primary contests in Tennessee are determined by plurality vote, meaning that the candidate with the highest number of votes wins even if he or she does not win more than 50 percent of votes cast.

Additional reading:

List of U.S. Congress incumbents who are not running for re-election in 2022

Funk defeats Myers, Nellis in Nashville District Attorney Democratic primary

Incumbent Davidson County District Attorney Glenn Funk defeated Sara Beth Myers and P. Danielle Nellis in the May 3 Democratic primary for that position. Funk received 43.4% of the vote, while Sara Beth Myers and P. Danielle Nellis received 40% and 16.6%, respectively. No Republicans filed to run in the Republican primary, leaving Funk without a challenger in the Aug. 4 general election. 

Funk was elected to an eight-year term in 2014. If he wins in the general election, his term will last through 2030. 

During the campaign, Funk said he was “the only candidate in this race that has a record to run on, and I’m proud of the record that I’ve run on.” Funk said his record included prosecuting domestic violence cases and offering better support for victims, declining to prosecute cases involving small amounts of marijuana, and declining to enforce a state law he said restricts abortion. 

Myers, who worked as a prosecutor in the U.S. Department of Justice, campaigned on crime prevention, civil rights advances, and restorative justice. Nellis, who clerked for a Nashville judge and worked as an assistant district attorney in Funk’s office, campaigned on criminal justice reform and public safety. Myers and Nellis ran on changing the criminal justice system and stopping what they said had been a rise in crime. 

Myers and Nellis criticized Funk for how he handled the prosecution of Andrew Delke in a case that received national attention. Delke was a Nashville police officer who, on July 26, 2018, shot Daniel Hambrick, a Black man, during a traffic stop. Funk charged Delke with criminal homicide, making Delke the first Nashville police officer to be charged with an on-duty murder. Shortly before the case was set to go to trial, Delke pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in return for a reduced sentence. Funk said he accepted the plea deal because he did not believe he could get a conviction in a trial. Nellis said she would have taken the case to trial, while Myers said Funk mishandled the entire case.

Nashville, Tennessee’s largest city, is the county seat of Davidson County, Tennessee.

New Tennessee ballot measure to change constitutional language on clergy serving in the General Assembly

Tennessee’s 112th General Assembly adjourned and certified a new constitutional amendment to put onto the ballot on April 28. This amendment would remove a section of Tennessee’s Constitution that disqualifies religious ministers from being elected into the Tennessee General Assembly.

The newly certified amendment will join three others already certified to be on the ballot in Tennessee.

If voters approve it in November, the amendment would remove Section 1 of Article IX of Tennessee’s constitution, which bans ministers and priests from serving in the Tennessee General Assembly. The text of the amendment is written below:

Whereas ministers of the Gospel are by their profession, dedicated to God and the care of souls, and ought not to be diverted from the great duties of their functions; therefore, no minister of the Gospel, or priest of any denomination whatever, shall be eligible to a seat in either House of the Legislature.

During the 18th and 19th century, thirteen states, including Tennessee, had provisions in their constitution forbidding clergy from serving in the state legislature. Many of these bans were carried over from English law. Eleven states–Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia–have amended their constitutions and dropped these provisions during the late 1700’s and 1800’s. Maryland and Tennessee kept these provisions in their constitutions into the 20th century.

In 1978, the U.S. Supreme Court found that the Tennessee law was unconstitutional in its McDaniel v. Paty ruling because it violated the first amendment. That same year, Maryland put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to remove the provision from their constitution, and voters approved to remove it. 

Tennessee is the only state left with this kind of provision left in their constitution.

To amend the constitution in Tennessee, state legislators must vote on a measure and approve it before putting it on the ballot. In Tennessee, this is done by both chambers of the General Assembly voting on the measure in two consecutive sessions with an election in between. For the first session, the measure must receive a simple majority vote of over 50%, and the second time around, the measure must receive a two-thirds vote in each chamber.

This constitutional amendment was introduced in February of 2019 as Senate Joint Resolution 178. Both chambers of Tennessee’s General Assembly then voted unanimously in favor of the amendment–the Senate voting in favor in 2019, and the House voting in favor in 2020. The amendment was then introduced to its second legislative session in 2021, where it was approved by both chambers. The Senate approved of the amendment on April 8, 2021, and on April 27, 2022, the House voted 89-1 to approve the amendment. The measure will now go to voters on election day in November.

This measure will join three other constitutional amendments already on the Tennessee ballot. All ballot measures are listed below:

  • A right-to-work amendment that mandates that no person can be required to pay dues to a labor union or join a labor union as a condition of employment.
  • An amendment to repeal language allowing slavery or indentured servitude as criminal punishments.
  • An amendment that provides a process and line of succession for the governor if they become disabled.
  • An amendment that removes the banning of clergy from serving in the General Assembly.

Voters approved each of the 11 constitutional amendments on the Tennessee ballot since 1995. Tennessee voters last decided on constitutional amendments in 2014.

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