Cochran's journey from Saigon to Nashville buoyed by faith, patriotism

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   State Rep. Jerome Cochran steers his life with the twin compasses -- his Christian beliefs and his love for America.
   Born in the upheaval of Saigon, Vietnam, on Nov. 17, 1971, during America's involvement in the Vietnam War, Cochran's parents, Jim and Cuc Cochran, came to the states shortly after his birth.
   "I am proud of my heritage and my mom's heritage," said Cochran. "I thank God I live in this country and I hope I can instill the same values in my family that I have been raised to believe."
   A practicing criminal defense attorney in Elizabethton, Cochran graduated from Happy Valley High School in 1990. Public service and citizenship were lessons Cochran learned as a student in the Carter County School System. His interest in politics and public policy was piqued when he was exposed to the Pro-Life movement while still a middle school student.
   "If you are silent and don't work to become an influence in the public policy, you're missing out on the Democratic process," he said.
   The issue was also at the crux of his Christian beliefs instilled in him by his parents.
   "Being raised in church all my life, we are taught that we are on this earth to help others," he said. "My family made sure I went to church and understood the importance in doing all that."
   He went on to graduate from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and Regent University School of Law in Virginia Beach, Va. He returned to his Carter County roots to practice law and actively work in the community.
   In traversing the educational world, Cochran said the advice he had received came from the pastor at his church: Get advice from a the Highest authority.
   "I believe that it is very important to pray for God's wisdom to guide you," he said. "I don't pretend to have all the answers to the world or the state budget; but you pray and ask for the strength to do it."
   The U.S. Constitution also provided for dissent against policies set down by a president, governor or any civic leader. Cochran also said that ability to agree and disagree -- although contentious among Americans at times -- was an enviable freedom for most countries and peoples around the world.
   "I think that is what the rest of the world envies us for ... the freedom we have here," Cochran said.
   The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and the nation's ongoing standoff with Iraq has tested Americans' resolve. Cochran said those events had changed the nature of how America protected its borders like never before.
   "We can never turn our back on the threats that are around us," he said. "We can never let our guard down anymore."
   A point made all the more important to the Cochran family since the representative's brother, Jonathan, recently received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
   "We are tremendously proud of Jonathan because he's been working at this since he was a freshman at Happy Valley," said Cochran. "He wants to make a career out of the military and he's willing to step up and do this in a time when America is facing major military challenges."
   During his campaign for the 4th District House seat last year, Cochran actively opposed the passage of a state tax on personal income and never shied away from his conservative Republican values.
   He said he didn't expect to have smooth sailing with every legislator in the House once he came to Nashville. The important thing, he said, was that the House members -- Democrat, Republican and independent -- sought solutions, even though the road each lawmaker took to an issue could be markedly different.
   "I appreciate them being honest and straightforward with me," he said. "We have our vote discussions, we argue a lot about issues, but then we vote and go onto the next bill and let it go."
   He and his wife Sandy are the parents of a six-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, and an 11-month-old son, Jeremy. The couple's third child is due in April. Cochran said he hoped to see his own children grow up to reap the fruits of the American dream.
   "Hopefully, we will live in a country that is vigilant but still respects the freedoms our forefathers left for us and the soldiers who died for us," said Cochran. "And I hope they have all the same opportunities I have had.
   "I'm a kid born in Saigon, born in the middle of a war, that had a chance to come to America and become a state representative from a rural Tennessee county," added Cochran. "Only in America can something like that happen."