Cochran -- Ready for Nashville

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

STAR STAFF
khughes@starhq.com

   Thirty-year-old Jerome Cochran took on veteran politico Ralph Cole and in an upset vote, unseated the 13-year incumbent in his bid for re-election.
   According to unofficial totals, Cochran won by 365 votes, 5,338 to Cole's 4,973.
   "I'm still a little numb right now," Cochran said as he held onto the lead while the final precincts were counted. "It's been four long, hard months. It's tough taking on a 13-year incumbent."
   Cole, speaking in an even tone after the final tally was in, said, "In my long life I have been fortunate enough to receive many honors. But the greatest honor that I have ever received is to be allowed to serve the people of Carter County in the Tennessee General Assembly.
   "I have always had great respect for Election Day and have never missed a time to vote, except possibly in the two years I was in the Navy. I have a strong feeling that it is everyone's obligation to vote, because many American men and women sacrificed their lives in combat so that we will have the freedom to vote and to run for office.
   "I have followed in the footsteps of my close friend, Congressman (Jimmy) Quillen," Cole said, "and have never made a negative statement about my opponent, nor have I mentioned my opponent's name in an ad. I'm proud of the campaign that I ran and I'm proud of the actions of my supporters."
   Cochran expressed his thanks to the voters. "I'm grateful to the people of Carter County for letting me be their voice and putting their confidence in me. I don't think many people expected when we started this campaign that we had much of a shot at all, but I think we've worked hard.
   "I've had good volunteers helping me. My family has been fantastic, helping me out here, and I think we just stuck with the issues and gave Carter County a clear choice this election: They said they do not want a state income tax, they want some real spending reform in Nashville, and they want someone who is going down there, I believe, to represent their voice and not that of Don Sundquist and Jimmy Naifeh.
   "Rep. Cole is a gentleman and I think we've run a very clean campaign. We stuck to the issues and that's what decided it, I think," he said.
   Cochran, an Elizabethton attorney, said that because the job of a representative is only part time, he will continue to practice law full time, "except when I'm in Nashville, of course, representing the people of Carter County and hopefully doing their wishes."
   Cole, when asked about his agenda for the future, said, "I plan to spend a lot of time with my wife and travel."
   During his years as representative, Cole said he has been fortunate "to have two fine governors to work with: Gov. [Ned Ray] McWherter and Gov. [Don] Sundquist, who both have shown me respect. And I have shown them respect.
   "Frankly, neither of them have ever turned me down on a project I was working on for Carter County. Sundquist, the first thing he gave me was $500,000 for the Hampton water utility, and this was just after he took office -- to run water lines up to Tiger Creek. It wasn't too long after that, within the same year, that he provided funds for the conference lodge at Roan Mountain State Park."
   Also during his years as representative, he said, he was instrumental in getting a $4 million water line installed in the Stoney Creek area as well as an entrance, turn lane, and traffic light at the Elizabethton/Carter County Chamber of Commerce building.
   "The first thing McWherter gave me was the bridge over Watauga River on the Bluff City Highway," Cole said.
   During the campaign, Cochran picked up the endorsement of Tennessee Conservative Union, Northeast Tennessee Republican Assembly, and Tennessee Right to Life.
   "I thought that was very impressive, especially considering the incumbent they came out against," Cochran said. "I think we've drawn a clear contrast between me and Rep. Cole on the issue of taxes, and I think on a variety of social issues."
   Earlier in the day when asked what he thought about his chances for election, Cochran said, "I don't think Rep. Cole has went after the vote very much. I think he just thinks he's going to walk through this. I think that's a mistake on his part."
   Cochran said that during the election campaign, "We've been door to door in pretty much every part of the county. We've had a direct mail campaign going, we've had phone calls, we've had signs out everywhere. I just don't know what more we could have done in a county race."
   Though not a Tennessee native, Cochran said he still calls himself a life-long Carter County resident. "I was born in Saigon. My dad was in the Air Force. He met my mom in Saigon and they were married and I was born there. I was there for about two months, probably a little less than that, actually, before coming here."
   Cochran graduated Happy Valley High School and did his undergraduate work at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, before receiving his law degree from Regent School of Law in Virginia Beach, Va. He and his wife, Sandy, live in the Milligan College/Pinecrest area, and have two children, 6-year-old Elizabeth and 11-month-old Jeremy.