Rep. John Tanner (D)
Tennessee 8th District
West of Nashville and the lakes along the Tennessee River and north of Memphis, the rivers roll lazily through flat or gently rolling land that almost could be the northern end of Mississippi. Cotton and soybeans are the main crops, and they often are abundant. More African-Americans remain in rural areas here than in any other part of Tennessee, a reminder of its old plantation economy. The towns are small, edged in by farm fields. The river bottoms, often flooded, are heavily forested. Henning, the hometown of Alex Haley, is where he used to sit on his porch and listen to his aunts tell him stories about slave ships and the Civil War, which became his book Roots.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 8th Congressional District of Tennessee includes much of this West Tennessee farmland, from the lakes west to the Mississippi. Its largest city is Jackson, which Morgan Quinto Press ranked ninth on its annual list of the most dangerous American cities in 2006. Delta faucets and Toyota parts are manufactured in Jackson, and the district also includes the northern fringes of Memphis. Historically, this is Democratic country. Republicans haven’t represented most of the counties that make up the 8th since the end of Reconstruction. The region trended Republican in national races in the 1960s and 1970s, then turned toward the Democrats with the help of some smart local politicians. One of them was Ned McWherter, Tennessee House speaker from 1973 to 1986, then governor for eight years. Recent movement has been back toward Republicans. Rural Carroll County is filled with small factories and is something of a bellwether in Tennessee politics, voting 50%-49% for Republican George W. Bush in 2000 and 56%-43% for him in 2004. In 2008, the county voted for John McCain by 3,475 votes. Overall, the district voted 51%-48% for Al Gore in 2000, switched to Bush 53%-47% in 2004, and then supported McCain 56%-43% in 2008.
Rep. John Tanner (D)
Elected: 1988, 11th term.
Born: Sept. 22, 1944, Halls .
Home: Union City.
Education: U. of TN, B.S. 1966, J.D. 1968.
Religion: Disciples of Christ.
Family: Married (Betty Ann); 2 children.
Military career: Navy, 1968–72; TN Natl. Guard, 1974–2000.
Elected office: TN House of Reps., 1976–88.
Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1973–88; Business owner, Farmer
The congressman from the 8th District is John Tanner, a Democrat first elected in 1988. But Tanner does not plan to seek re-election in 2010. The influential co-founder of the Blue Dogs faction in the House announced in early December 2009 that he would retire at the end of his term. His departure will leave a void in the leadership of the moderate-conservative wing of the party and gives Republicans a good pickup opportunity in the GOP-friendly district.
|John Tanner (D)||Unopposed||(100%)||($923,816)|
|John Tanner (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (73%), 2004 (74%), 2002 (70%), 2000 (72%), 1998 (100%), 1996 (67%), 1994 (64%), 1992 (84%), 1990 (100%), 1988 (62%)
Tanner, who is a cousin of McWherter, grew up in Obion County, and went to college and law school at the University of Tennessee. He served four years in the Navy, and then practiced law in Union City. He served in the Army National Guard, and retired as a colonel. In 1976, at age 32, he successfully ran for the Tennessee House, where he served 12 years. In 1988, when the incumbent retired, Tanner ran for Congress and won with a whopping 66% of the vote in a four-candidate primary. He got 62% in the general election.
Tanner’s voting record puts him solidly in the middle of the Democratic House. He was a founder of the moderate-to-conservative Democratic coalition called the Blue Dogs, and now heads the group’s political action committee. He has a seat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, where he has worked on tax issues, including elimination of estate taxes on family-owned farms and small businesses. When Democrat Bill Clinton was president, Tanner was a leading Democrat advocating elimination of the estate tax. President George W. Bush signed a bill eliminating it in 2010, though the changes will “sunset,” reverting to the old rates the next year unless Congress acts. He has consistently supported free trade deals, including normalizing trade relations with China and the 2005 Central American Free Trade Agreement. His advocacy of free trade on Ways and Means has angered many Democrats and union allies.
In 1992, Tanner could have been a senator: McWherter was ready to appoint him to succeed Al Gore when Gore became vice president. But Tanner chose to stay in the House, where he has become a major force. Tanner helped to create the Blue Dogs’ welfare proposal, which was the genesis for the welfare reform plan that Clinton signed in 1996. His modifications won the support of half the House’s Democrats. That bipartisanship, as well as Tanner’s support, later disappeared when House Republicans sought to extend the law with tougher requirements for eligibility.
In the Bush era, he was a harsh critic of Republican deficit policies, and offered alternatives to make their tax cuts revenue-neutral. He has sponsored a resolution to require a three-fifths vote in the House to pass any bill that would increase the federal deficit. When gas prices skyrocketed in recent years, Tanner and other moderate Democrats introduced legislation to lift the ban on domestic oil drilling while also encouraging alternative fuels and nuclear energy. As part of his non-partisan approach, he took up the cause of redistricting reform, which would switch control from state legislators to independent commissions. In 2007, he introduced the bill with 34 cosponsors.
As a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Tanner has been active in work involving NATO. In 2007, Speaker Nancy Pelosi appointed him to chair the U.S. delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, a gathering of legislative bodies from the 26 NATO member nations to discuss security and economic issues. In November 2008, the body elected Tanner parliamentarian of the group. He supported the war in Iraq, but got the House to pass his amendment requiring the Army to consider a shift to six-month deployments in order to improve soldier morale and ease the strain on their families. His bill to require the secretary of Defense to provide updates to Congress on redeployments passed the House 377-46, but stalled in the Senate.
In the 8th District, Tanner has been re-elected by wide margins. In 2000, the United Steelworkers backed his Democratic primary opponent because of Tanner’s free trade support, but Tanner won the primary 87%-13%. He was unopposed in 2008.