Congressman Steve Cohen is a fourth-generation Memphian who has dedicated his life to public service. As a child, he was stricken with polio, but through hard work, he was able to beat this debilitating disease. The challenges of living with polio as a youngster taught him early in life how to overcome obstacles through persistence and determination, values which would shape his career as a legislator. Filing to run for office on the same day he first registered to vote, Congressman Cohen stepped onto the path that has defined his life and affected the lives of people in Memphis, across Tennessee and now across America throughout his career in national, state and local politics.
During his term as a Shelby County Commissioner, Congressman Cohen cast one of the essential votes for the creation of The MED. This would be the first in a long line of votes during his career that would define his legislative philosophy: fighting to ensure the basic human rights of every American, such as access to health care.
During his 24 years in the Tennessee State Senate, Congressman Cohen amassed a strong record of passionate, honest and unselfish service. He consistently spurned special interests to stand up for the people’s interests. On issues ranging from women’s rights to animal welfare, Congressman Cohen was a relentless advocate in the Tennessee State Senate even in the face of overwhelming opposition. Before he was elected to Congress, he became known throughout the state as the “Father of the Tennessee Lottery,” after leading the referendum effort that instituted arguably the most successful education initiative in Tennessee history.
Since the inception of the Tennessee Education Lottery Scholarship program in 2004, over $2.7 billion has gone to students continuing their education at the college level. As a State Senator, Congressman Cohen fought for nearly twenty years before the State Lottery was established. Countless students have benefited from Congressman Cohen’s tireless efforts to provide Tennesseans with access to affordable, quality, post-secondary education.
Upon election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2006, Congressman Cohen immediately distinguished himself on the Hill for his thoughtful legislation and quick wit. His pointed questioning of Bush Administration officials like Alberto Gonzalez, David Addington, Monica Goodling and Michael Mukasey in the highly influential Judiciary Committee quickly earned Congressman Cohen the reputation as a champion of government accountability and a fierce interrogator. Speaker Nancy Pelosi even referred to him as the “conscience of the freshman class” in 2008. In August of 2008, he was instrumental in passing H.Res.194, a House resolution apologizing for the enslavement and racial segregation of African Americans. This historic legislation marked the first time the United States government has ever apologized for these past injustices. He has remained a steadfast leader on issues of importance to the people of the 9th District, leading the policy debate on issues like infant mortality, universal health care, the economy, crime and criminal rehabilitation, transportation and infrastructure, and of course, education.
Congressman Cohen has also dedicated himself to providing outstanding constituent service to the citizens of Memphis. The doors of his District Office in the Clifford Davis/Odell Horton Federal Building are always open for constituents, and Congressman Cohen held more than a dozen town halls around the city which often included visiting leaders such as Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (MI-14) and singer/activist Harry Belafonte. He has never faltered in fighting for those who do not have the power bestowed by wealth and advantage, and his goal is as it has always been: to ensure that everyone – regardless of race, class or creed – has the opportunity to achieve their American dream.
- B.A. Vanderbilt University 1971
- J.D. University of Memphis School of Law 1973
- Established legal practice in 1978 after serving as a legal advisor for the Memphis Police Department
- Born May 24, 1949, Memphis, TN
- U.S. House of Representatives, Congressman, 110th Congress 2007/2008, re-elected 111th Congress 2009/2010, re-elected 112th Congress 2011/2012
- Tennessee General Assembly, State Senator, 93rd through 104th Sessions, 1982 to 2006
- Shelby County Commissioner, 1978-80
- Delegate and Vice-President of the Tennessee Constitutional Convention, 1977
- Memphis College of Art, Board of Trustees 1988-2002
- Memphis Zoological Council 2001-2006
- Memphis Zoological Society, Board of Directors 1988-2000
- Circuit Playhouse, Inc., Board of Directors 1977-Present
- Memphis Redbirds Foundation 1998-2003
- Memphis/Shelby County Center City Commission
- NAACP, Lifetime Member
- Tennessee Holocaust Commission, 1984 – 2006
- University of Memphis Presidential Search Committee, 2000
- University of Memphis Football Coach Search Committee, 1994
2013: Public Policy Award from The Tourette Syndrome Association; Legislator of the Year Award from The Institute of Real Estate Managemeent and the CCIM Institute.
2012: Defender of Children Award from the First Focus Campaign for Children; Humane Champion Award from the Humane Society; Most Valuable Policymaker Award from the Sports Fans Coalition; Tribute of Hope Award from the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization; Named Public Offical of the Year by the Tennessee Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers; National Urban League award for cosponsoring the Urban Jobs Act of 2011; Named a Defender of Children by the First Focus Campaign for Children.
2010: NFL Gridiron Greats Award for his work on reducing head injuries in football; Tennessee Equal Justice 2010 Legislative Leadership Award from Memphis Area Legal Services for his work to increase funding for the Legal Services Corporation and for working to address racial and ethnic disparities in the federal criminal justice system; American Bar Association Day Award for his work to promote equal access to justice; Trinity Community Coalition Outreach Appreciation Award for his work to help combat drug and alcohol abuse, recidivism and homelessness.
2009: America Hero Award from ProtectingAmerica.org; 14th Annual Stone Award Politician of the Year; Exhoodus Council’s first annual Urban Peace and Courage Award; “Candle on the Bluff Award” presented by the Memphis Chapter of Morehouse College Alumni and New Olivet Baptist Church; Humane Society “Humane Champion” award.
2008: The Vida Foundation’s D. Emelio Castelar Work Recognition Award (International Humanitarian Award presented in Madrid, Spain); Memphis Flyer “Best of Memphis” Reader’s Poll: Best Memphian; Selected as one of the Forward 50 by The Forward, America’s largest Jewish newspaper, recognizing the most influential Jewish Americans of the year; 13th Annual Stone Awards Recipient: Most Outstanding Politician; Tennessee Communication Association’s Communicator of the Year; Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) Award of Excellence for Public Service; Tennessee Principals Association “Friend of Education Award;” Alpha Kappa Alpha Beta Epsilon Omega Chapter AKAward For Outstanding Public Service in the Area of the Economic Keys to Success; Honorary Degree from LeMoyne-Owen College
2007: Planned Parenthood “Bob James Award”, Memphis Gridiron Show Headliner Award – Mid-South Newsmaker of the Year, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) Region IV Political Award, Business Tennessee 2007 Power 100: Top 100 Most Powerful People in Tennessee, U.S. Humane Society 2007 Humane Champion Award
2006: Tennessee Humane Association Legislative Achievement Award – In Recognition and Appreciation of Continued Support of Animal Related Legislation.
2004: Shelby County Democratic Party “William W. (Bill) Farris Political Leadership Award”, Business Tennessee Magazine “Power 100”, University of Memphis Society “Walter Barret Distinguished Service Award”, University of Memphis “Eye of the Tiger Award”
2003: National College Board “Excellence in Education” award, presented at NCSL Convention, Boys and Girls clubs of Tennessee “Legislator of the Year Award”, Knoxville News-Sentinel columnist’s “Legislator of the Year”
2002: Tennessee Human Rights Campaign “Public Leadership Award”
2001: Governor’s Awards in the Arts “Leadership Award”, Executive Seminar for Legislative Leaders, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
2000: AAA Legislator of the Year Award, Holocaust Commission award, & AutoZone Park Opening Day First Pitch
1999: TN Pediatrics Society Friend of Children Award
1998: Memphis Arts Council/”Memphis Theatre Award”
1997: Common Cause of Tennessee “Bird Dog Award” for ethics
1996: University of Tennessee-Memphis Faculty Senate’s Presidential Citation & Memphis Magazine Reader’s Poll “Best Local Politician”
1995: Lorin Hollander Arts Award from the Tennessee Arts Academy & Memphis Women’s Political Caucus Good Guys Award
1994: Unitarian Fellowship Dr. Peter Cooper Award
1992: Tennesseans for the Arts Advocate Award, Tennessee Bill of Rights Award, Tennessee Association of County Election Officials Award, Common Cause of Tennessee “Bird Dog Award” for ethics & Sierra Club “green list” top rating in Senate
1991: Community Mental Retardation Agencies of Tennessee Legislator of the Year Award & The Blues Foundation Keeping the Blues Alive Award
1988: Save Shelby Farms Award
1987: Memphis Arts Council Commendation