Path to Power
Cooper was born in 1954 in Nashville, Tenn., where his father, Prentice Cooper, served as governor for six years. Cooper left Tennessee for college, going first to the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, where he studied history and economics, graduated as a Morehead Scholar and worked as the co-editor of the Daily Tar Heel, the school newspaper.After graduation, he earned a Rhodes scholarship to study politics and economics at Oxford University and then received his J.D. from Harvard Law School.
Cooper worked at the law firm of Waller, Lansden, Dortch and Davis in Nashville for two years after graduating from Harvard Law School, but after two years, when a seat opened up in the U.S. House, Cooper left private practice for politics. He ran for a U.S. House seat representing the 4th District of Tennessee in 1982. His opponent was Cissy Baker, the daughter of then-Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker (R-Tenn.), but Cooper won easily in what was at the time the most expensive House race in state history. The 28-year-old Cooper was the youngest member of Congress when he won. He quickly made friends, raised a lot of money and has never had trouble getting re-elected.
Though he's from the generally conservative state of Tennessee and is a member of the centrist Blue Dog Coalition, Cooper restricts that conservatism to economic issues. "Cooper and his fellow Blue Dogs don't like measuring by the 'trillion,'" Washingtonian magazine wrote in 2009. He supports abortion rights and gun control. During his first stint in Congress, he supported a law banning smoking on airplanes, despite the fact that the district he represented at the time included a number of tobacco farmers. "I'm not anti-tobacco," Cooper said. "I'm anti-cancer. … [I'm] anxious to keep [my constituents] alive as long as possible."
The Blue Dog voted with the Democratic Party 90.5 percent of the time in the 110th Congress. His support for trade agreements has consistently pitted him against labor unions, and his 1994 health care bill challenged President Bill Clinton's proposal and was unpopular with the party leadership. He spent his first stint in Congress on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where he worked closely on the Clean Air Act.
Cooper is a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, where he will likely become more powerful in the 112thCongress as its ranks dramatically shrank after the 2010 elections.
Cooper's father, Prentice Cooper, wasTennessee governor. He has worked with prominent Tennessee politicians such as Al Gore and Harold Ford Jr.