UPDATE 11:23 p.m.: Post Politics notes an Associated Press story that reports State Sen. Roy Herron (D-Dresden) has dropped out of the 2010 governor's race and will run for Tanner's congressional seat.
UPDATE 9:01 p.m.: Congressman's official statement and a statement from U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander attached at conclusion of article
Congressman John Tanner has started informing friends and colleagues that he will not seek re-election after his current term expires. Tanner's office has confirmed this to NashvillePost.com and said that a statement is forthcoming.
Tanner, 65, a longtime Democratic incumbent who has served as president of an interparliamentary NATO organization representing 28 member nations, hasn't been seriously challenged for the seat since 1988. Recently, Republican challenger Stephen Fincher raised over $300,000 to move the seat from the "safe" to "likely" category in national circles. But locally, Tennessee political operatives believed Tanner to be invulnerable short of redistricting in 2012.
Reached by telephone tonight, Nashville's Fifth District Congressman and fellow Blue Dog congressional colleague Jim Cooper said, "I'm really disappointed John is retiring. He's done a great job representing not only West Tennessee but all Tennesseans. He's one of the best congressmen in Washington, a valued colleague."
On the Democratic side, various names are currently being floated as possible contenders for the seat, including state representatives Judy Barker, Craig Fitzhugh and Mark Maddox as well as Senate Democratic Caucus Chair Lowe Finney.
Gubernatorial candidates Roy Herron and Mike McWherter also might re-evaluate their current political ambitions in the wake of the news.
Reached by phone, McWherter declined to comment on the reports, saying only that Tanner has been "an outstanding congressman."
McWherter offered that "if the reports were true," his successor would have very big shoes to fill.
Rep. Tanner's official statement released after initial publication:
"Other than wearing the military uniform of my country, I can think of no higher privilege than serving in public office with the consent of free men and women. Betty Ann and I have been honored and humbled by the support granted us through the years. The many kindnesses and friendships extended to us are something we cherish and for which we will be forever grateful.
"When we were first elected to Congress some 21 years ago, I agreed, as I do now, with our predecessor, Ed Jones, that 20 years was an appropriate amount of time to serve, with the voters' consent.
"Betty Ann and I had considered retiring in 2007 at the end of the 110th Congress, were it not for the fact that our nation had the chance to elect an American as President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly at this critical moment in the war in Afghanistan. However, we believed we owed it to our country to stay and fulfill this term of office as NATO PA President. This mandate expires in November 2010, and therefore, we have made the decision not to seek re-election to Congress.
"No one could have asked for a more dedicated staff to help countless thousands of our constituents. Long hours, nights and weekends are not uncommon in our offices. We look forward to continuing this service to the 8th District next year through the end of the 111th Congress.
"Our nation faces many severe and unrelenting problems. I will stay active on these matters and continue my efforts with the Blue Dogs and others of good will to help our citizens come together for the future of our children and grandchildren.
"No road in public life is travelled alone. Betty Ann and our children have sacrificed much over these years, and for them and for me, we say a simple and heartfelt 'thank you.' It has truly been our friends and supporters who have made this journey possible."
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander's statement:
“John Tanner has been a principled, independent voice in our state and federal governments for three decades. Our country will miss his ability to work across party lines to get results and so will I.”