By Antonio R. Harvey | OBSERVER Staff Writer

California Assembly member Jim Cooper is running for Sacramento County Sheriff. Jameel Pugh, OBSERVER

Jim Cooper lost an election for Sacramento County sheriff against Scott Jones 10 years ago. After a successful run in the Assembly, Cooper said he’s running again.

This time, however, Cooper won’t face Jones and he has added expanded political experience to his résumé.

“I have dedicated my life to my community, protecting victims and keeping the public safe,” said Cooper, a former sheriff’s captain. “I look forward to building on this commitment as Sacramento County’s sheriff.”

Jim Barnes, a captain in the Sheriff’s department, has also announced his candidacy for the position.

A graduate of Rancho Cordova High School, Cooper grew up in Sacramento. He also graduated from the West Point Leadership Academy and the FBI National Academy. He earned a master’s degree in organizational leadership from St. Mary’s College.

The 30-year law enforcement veteran received the Bronze Star for Bravery for his actions during the 1991 hostage crisis at a South Sacramento Good Guys store, spent four years as the sheriff’s department spokesperson, and nearly a decade working as an undercover narcotics officer and gang detective.

While still a deputy, Cooper served 13 years as Elk Grove’s first mayor, serving two terms, as well as four terms on the city council.

In 2014, Cooper announced his candidacy to represent Assembly District 9, which covers parts of South Sacramento, Elk Grove, Galt, and Lodi. He replaced Dr. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) who ran for and eventually won the 6th Senate District. In that election, Cooper was joined by Assembly member Kevin McCarty as the first African Americans to represent the region in the California legislature.

Cooper wasted no time settling into a position that would soon serve to be a blessing after his loss by 3,500 votes two years earlier.

Cooper in eight years in the Assembly has authored more than 30 public safety bills. Sexually violent predators, murderers, ghost guns, and school gun violence legislation all were drafted to reduce crime in the Sacramento region and statewide.

In addition, Cooper authored legislation to enhance DNA collection samples, improve emergency medical response services, expand community policing, and increase access to rape kits.

In summer 2020, Cooper wrote a two-page open letter to leaders of environmental organizations calling out racism and the lack of diversity in their organizations.

Sierra Club California, the California League of Conservation Voters, the National Resources Defense Council, and Environment California “have long had all White or (mostly) leadership teams,” Cooper wrote.

“These organizations, from their leaders to their funders, are nearly all White, and attempt to trade on race issues by branding their efforts as ‘environmental justice’ – for which they do not apologize,” Cooper wrote in the letter dated Aug. 3, 2020.

Cooper voiced his perspective of how the organizations conduct business after Sierra Club California announced its commitment to invest $5 million toward diversifying its staff, and environmental and racial justice efforts.

Executive Director Michael Brune released a statement six weeks after the fact in response to George Floyd’s May 2020. In it, he apologized for his organization’s “substantial role in perpetuating white supremacy.”

Cooper commended the 128-year-old organization for the public apology and for putting up funds to address internal and external racial issues. But he still pointed out Sierra Club’s timing.

The assemblyman backed his allegations, adding, “These organizations consistently push legislation that is designed to ‘protect or improve’ the environment, but fall way below addressing the needs of disadvantaged communities,” he wrote.

To his credit, Cooper’s role as a lawmaker allowed him to voice his opinions about social justice, too. He had a dialogue with the then-chair of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) about the chair making a awkward comment about the Floyd murder. 

Board Chair Mary Nichols posted a disturbing message relating to the death of Floyd, who died when a Minneapolis police officer pinned his knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Nichols posted June 1, 2020: “‘I can’t breathe’ speaks to police violence, but it also applies to the struggle for clean air. Environmental racism is just one form of racism. It’s all toxic. Government needs to clean it up in word and deed.”

Cooper responded by tweeting, “How dare you use a dying man’s plea for help as a way to discuss your agenda. Have you no shame?”

Nichols later issued an apology via Twitter, stating “I apologize for speaking at the wrong time about the wrong topic. Racism comes in many forms and I believe we must fight every instance of it in our society.”

Nichols retired from the position in December 2020 and was replaced by attorney Liane Randolph, a commissioner at the state’s public utilities regulator. Randolph, 56, is CARB’s first Black chair.