Harris eyes challenge to Cohen

State Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris says he may challenge U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen in the 9th Congressional District Democratic primary this year, according to The Tennessean.

“I’ve got to take a serious look at how I can best serve this community,” Harris said, adding that Memphis is facing challenges in many areas, including high poverty and crime rates. “We’re at the top of all the wrong rankings.”

Harris noted that Cohen has been serving as a public official in various capacities for 36 years.

“The question becomes whether it is time to pull the curtain back,” said Harris, adding that politicians can be in office too long and become “out of sync with the priority of the masses.”

Harris specifically pointed to Cohen’s opposition to Tennessee Promise, a state program that offers free community or technical college to eligible high school seniors. In December 2014, Cohen expressed his opposition to the program and praised the HOPE lottery scholarship in an op-ed printed in The Tennessean.

…When reached Monday evening, Cohen said he plans to run for re-election and despite Harris’ criticisms, he stood behind his record and ability to serve the district. Cohen pointed to his position on progressive issues, adding that he has had a “strong voice” on women’s issues.

“I think it is more important than ever that I continue to represent Memphis,” Cohen said, noting the city has benefited in many ways thanks to the connections and relationships he has made while serving in Congress.

“I think I get better and better each year,” Cohen said.

The congressman also took issue with Harris’ criticism of his lack of support for Tennessee Promise, saying, “That’s glorious.” Cohen said he considered the development of the HOPE Lottery Scholarship his signature achievement as a state senator. He also pointed out that Tennessee Promise and the HOPE scholarship are state issues, not federal.

“It shows a sophomoric approach,” he said, adding that it was “ignorant politics” of Harris to bring up the issue.

Further from the Commercial Appeal:

Harris, a law professor and former Memphis City Council member, took to social media on Tuesday calling Cohen “out of sync with the vast majority of Memphians” after Cohen offered some harsh words about Harris’ level of political experience.

Cohen, meanwhile, said he feels “a little bit betrayed” by Harris, whom he supported for state senate in 2014. Harris would leave office before his first term ends in 2018 if his challenge against Cohen is successful.

“When you get elected you ought to work and learn, and be proud of what you accomplish, not just run for the next office,” said Cohen, who has held his current seat since 2006.