Gordon retiring, reaction mixed

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon, the 13-term congressman who represents Marshall County, is not running for re-election next year, he announced Monday.

His announcement prompted observations about politicians stepping aside, and while Gordon, 60, was re-elected last year with 74 percent of the vote, he'd been targeted by Republicans for a midterm election challenge.

"He is not the only one who's seen the writing on the wall of a hard campaign for a 2010 election," Marshall County Republican Party Chairman Mike Sherrell said.

State Rep. Eddie Bass said he's "appreciative" of Gordon's service.

Gordon's announcement came about two weeks after fellow Tennessee Democratic Rep. John Tanner said he was retiring with 11 terms in Congress. That prompted Democratic state Sen. Roy Herron to drop his gubernatorial bid to instead seek Tanner's seat.

Gordon and Tanner had both drawn GOP challengers, as had Tennessee Democratic Congressman Lincoln Davis whose district borders Marshall County.

"He's been a great congressman," Marshall County Democratic Party Chairman Chris Collins said of Gordon, "and an asset to the community, our state and the country as a whole. Whatever he decides to do, going forward, he's going to have my support."

Gordon gave family reasons for retiring.

"Turning 60 has led me to do some thinking about what's next," he said. "I have an 8-year-old daughter and a wonderful wife who has a very demanding job, and I am the only child of my 83-year-old mother, Margaret. They have made sacrifices to allow me to do what I love by serving Congress, and now it's my turn."

Collins said, "I'm wishing his family the best and I'll always have one congressman and that will be Bart Gordon."

Sherrill countered: "I don't know what's in his mind, but certainly he's decided to not follow the wishes of his constituents by following the leadership of President Barack Obama and it's not sitting well with the people."

Gordon's announcement was a surprise for Sherrill and Collins.

The 6th Congressional District includes 15 counties from Nashville's fast-growing suburbs to the Cumberland Plateau. GOP candidate John McCain carried the district by 25 percentage points last year over Obama.

Gordon "has been a staple in politics for many years," said Taylor Brandon, treasurer of the County Democratic Party. "I don't know who'd they run for his position. I'd think that everybody would be tied up for the governor's race."

"Obviously," Collins said, "it's going to take some time to figure that out. I'm sure somebody will surface and be a strong candidate and I look forward to helping the party find that person."

Collins and Sherrill got word of Gordon's decision by e-mail.

Had Gordon decided to run again, "He would have been a formidable candidate again, mainly because a lot of people don't follow politics," Sherrell said. "They have their own lives and problems and aren't interested in it enough.

"Something has spurred him" to not run, Sherrell said.

"Maybe the approval ratings are so far down," he said, referring to senators, congressmen and President Obama, "they realized they're not well thought of right now."

Gordon also mentioned his mother as a family reason against running again.

"I am the only child of my 83-year-old mother, Margaret," the retiring congressman said. His mother, wife and daughter "have made sacrifices to allow me to do what I love by serving Congress, and now it's my turn."

Gordon is the chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology. He was first elected in 1984, after Al Gore gave up his seat to run for the Senate.

Andy Sere, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Gordon's retirement "is yet another indication that Tennessee Democrats like Roy Herron and Lincoln Davis are fighting uphill in 2010."

U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said, "We are confident that a Democrat who shares Chairman Gordon's commitment to putting progress before partisanship on behalf of Middle Tennessee will succeed him as the next representative of Tennessee's 6th District."

Lou Ann Zelenik has stepped down as chairwoman of the Rutherford County Republican Party to focus on her challenge for Gordon's seat, while Republican state Sen. Jim Tracy's campaign manager, Mike McCrady, said Monday that Tracy is running for the seat.

Tracy is a Shelbyville insurance agent, former NCAA basketball referee and current chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.

On the Democratic side, state Rep. Henry Fincher, a Harvard-educated attorney from Cookeville, said he might join the race.

Fincher, who has been a vocal supporter of gun rights and an opponent of abortion rights in the state legislature, said he expects a Democrat with "rural values" to have a strong showing.