Sen. Thelma Harper to leave Senate after nearly 40 years

Sen Thelma Harper

After nearly 40 years of public service, state Sen. Thelma Harper has announced that she would not seek re-election to the 19th Senatorial District.

“Even though there is no greater honor than being able to serve and be your voice on the hill, I truly feel the time is right for me to pass the baton to the next generation of future leaders,” Sen. Harper said. “Even though I will no longer be an elected public servant, I will continue to serve and work in the community to help those in need.”

First elected in 1991, Sen. Harper was the first African American woman elected to the Tennessee state Senate and is the longest-serving female state senator in the history of Tennessee. Prior to joining the Senate, she served eight years as a Metro councilwoman.

Her dedication to politics and public service was driven by a commitment to serving women, children and the elderly. She made her name as a community leader through her efforts to close the former Bordeaux dump.

“Together, we have accomplished more than I could have ever expected,” she said. “I am especially proud to have been a voice to our most vulnerable and being able to pass meaningful legislation regarding women, children and the elderly. All of this fueled my dedication to politics and public service.

Harper’s announcement has been a point of speculation for a number of months. Currently running for her seat are Brenda Gilmore, current House Representative for District 54; George Thomas, founder/ president of Education Equal Opportunity Group (EEOG); and Rev. Howard Jones, Jr., senior pastor of Fairfield Missionary Baptist Church.

Following her announcement, state leaders from both sides of the aisle praised her years of service to Tennessee:

“Tennessee is losing one of its most experienced and likable public servants with the retirement of Sen. Harper,” said Gov. Bill Haslam. “I will miss her friendship, her insight and her wonderful sense of humor.”

“Even before she was elected to the Senate, Thelma Harper was working to make the lives of Nashvillians better,” said Lt. Gov. Randy McNally.

“I’ve served with many members and none have had more compassion and strength of will than Thelma Harper. She has consistently broken down barriers throughout her career without ever breaking a sweat. She has been a credit to Nashville and a most distinguished member of the Senate. Her hand is consistently extended in friendship toward those she serves and those she serves with. She has truly left Tennessee and the senate better than she found it. While we will miss her in the senate, her retirement is well-deserved.”

“Thelma Harper’s absence will leave a void in the senate,” said Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro. “She’s been a stalwart member of this body and a leader in Nashville for a generation. I join so many others in wishing her well and thanking her for her years of service, and I will personally miss seeing her each day on the Senate floor.”

“Sen. Harper is a Tennessee treasure,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris. “Her service in the senate and to our state is surpassed only by her dedication to her community and constituents. She will be missed but never forgotten.”

“Many times we speak of statesmen in the General Assembly, but Sen. Harper reflects that image for me and many others on both sides of the aisle,” said Sen. Bill Ketron. “She has represented her constituents with great honor and distinction, and she will be truly missed.”

“There has been no greater champion for children and young adults in Tennessee than Sen. Harper,” said state Rep. Harold Love Jr. “She has blazed so many trails for so many people that her legacy will last for decades to come. I am grateful to have been blessed to serve with her in the Tennessee General Assembly.