On the face of it, this all sounds simple enough, but State Law has complicated the issue, as it is known to do, and that’s causing a bit of controversy surrounding the process of selecting a Democratic nominee to replace the Senator.
See, most people who didn’t know any better would think there’d just be another primary election (possibly on the date of the State/National general election in November), followed by the general election (sometime thereafter), but that’s not the case.
Because of the timing of Senator Kyle’s as yet unannounced resignation, select members of the Shelby County Democratic and Republican Executive Committees will have to select a nominee to the November General election.
How you get to that point, depends on how you read the law.
Late Sunday night, the County Party sent members of the Executive Committee an advisory on who should be a part of the Caucus. The release, which is covered here, calls for a meeting of the Executive Committee on August 21st to determine the process, then the beginning of nominations on August 28th.
Now, setting the process early isn’t a bad thing. And there’s nothing that prohibits the Party from doing so before there’s actually a vacancy. But setting the beginning of the nominating process for any time before there is a vacancy is problematic.
In legaleese, the issue isn’t ripe (or ready for action).
Until Sen. Kyle submits his resignation to Gov. Haslam (as prescribed in TCA §§ 8-48-104) and the Governor issues a writ of election, there is no vacancy to fill.
So beginning any process to fill an unrealized vacancy is jumping the gun.
What if Sen. Kyle suddenly decides he likes the State Senate and doesn’t want to resign (unlikely, but possible)?
Truth be told, Sen. Kyle is in the driver’s seat, until the very moment he transmits his resignation to the Governor (sometime before he is sworn in as Chancellor). At that point, its up to the Governor to issue a writ. When that happens, then and only then is the process in the hands of the County Party.
So, to recap: Setting up a process before the a vacancy has occurred isn’t entirely bad, but starting the actual call for candidates before the vacancy occurs is problematic.
But that’s not the only problem with the party’s plan for filling the, as yet, non-existent vacancy.
In the Draft release sent to the Executive Committee, the state process quotes Tennessee law.
Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-14-202 is the relevant section of code for this circumstance. But what the code means is another thing entirely…and especially here in Shelby County, where, by virtue of our size, and the bang-up job the Tennessee General Assembly did on gerrymandering the heck out of the House Districts, it gets complicated.
Here’s the relevant section that everyone’s quoting:
(d)(3) If a vacancy as described in subdivision (d)(1) occurs after the sixth Thursday before the primary election, the members of the county executive committees who represent the precincts composing such senate district may nominate a candidate to appear on the November election ballot by any method authorized under the rules of the party.
“represent” is bolded for emphasis
Now, this all sounds easy enough, except, the County party isn’t organized by precincts or State Senate Districts, we’re organized by House districts. And those House Districts are all over the place when it comes to crossing with Senate District 30.Here’s an idea of what that looks like.
As you can see from the image on the right, there are a lot of House Districts that intersect with Senate Dist. 30, and none of them are completely inside the district.
In all, there are 8 of Shelby County’s 14 House Districts that intersect at some point with Senate District 30. They are House Districts: 83, 85, 86, 88, 90, 93, 97, and 98.
If you’re an Executive Committee member representing one of those districts, you represent every precinct in that district
And that’s where the TNDP’s plan fails or the County Party misinterpreted the statute.
Here’s the email sent out to Executive Committee members announcing the Special Called Meeting. You’ll note that the final paragraph says this in part:
Per State Statue, Executive Committee members who reside in Senate District 30 and House District Chairs representing Districts that overlap with District 30 will make up the Caucus that will be responsible for electing a person to fill the Senate District 30 vacancy.
again, bolded for emphasis
Now, go back to the statute I quoted above. Nowhere does it say the people who “represent precincts” in the Senate District must also “reside” in the district.
We are a representative body, elected by people in all of the precincts of our district, as set forth by our bylaws which are approved by the State Party.
Excluding anyone who represents anyone in District 30, no matter how small of an area, is effectively creating a class of plaintiffs that could sue, effectively tying the outcome of the process up for a very long time. I don’t think anyone wants that. I certainly don’t.
Sure, that will mean there will be more than 40 people (more than half of the Executive Committee) participating in the process, but the people who chose to participate in the Ward and Precinct Caucus last year, as well as the Convention, selected people to represent them in matters of this nature.
Doing anything (purposefully or inadvertently) to ignore that process effectively disenfranchises them and ultimately makes them a part of any lawsuit class that might arise from getting it wrong.
Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-14-202 (d)(3) mentions “party rules” near the end of the quoted statute. It should be noted, that means how the winner is named, and nothing else…ie: majority of the vote or a plurality.
The party can set the rules in that manner, but the statute is clear on who is a qualified elector…and the Party can’t change that.
As for the method, that may be less clear. But it bears noting that in primary elections, a majority, as prescribed by the State party’s plan, is not the method normally used. Here’s the portion of TCA §§ 2-8-113 that applies.
(a) On the fourth Thursday after a primary election, the state coordinator of elections shall publicly calculate and compare the votes received by each person and declare who has been nominated for office in the primary or elected to the state executive committee. The candidates who receive the highest number of votes shall be declared elected or nominated;
bolded for emphasis
As we’ve seen in nominating procedures in the County Commission…voting until there’s a majority can yield unexpected and bizarre results. It can also lengthen the nominating time a great deal.
I can find nothing in state law that would mandate either a “most votes/plurality” position, nor a “majority” position for a caucus, but I would submit that the plurality will cause the process to run more smoothly, with less possibility of confusion.
Everyone understands the concept that the person with the most votes wins.
In the wake of some of the less pleasant things that have occurred in both State and County politics of late, the last thing either group wants to see happen is controversy arise in the act of fulfilling a fundamental process of these entities.
We have a full month before this has to be decided. Heck, we have nearly 10 days before Senator Kyle must resign to be sworn in as Chancellor.
Its critical we get this right.
For that reason, I hope both the Shelby County Democratic Party, and the Tennessee Democratic Party will take a step back and reconsider the process they’ve laid out thus far.
That may mean voting on the process issue closer to the Sept. 4th meeting (which would give the potential electors time to review any new process that arises). But voting on a potentially flawed process now only means more confusion in the end.
We can make this clean, clear, and completely right with the law if we keep ourselves from rushing through the process.
I hope we’ll take a step back and make sure we get it right.
When they break, rather than trying to put Humpty back together again, you just discard it.
Wine glasses are the weakest link in our home. Hell, probably every home.
They’re not really that expensive (if you keep getting the cheap ones) and when they break you don’t even consider fixing them because…well that’s just too OCD.
Chances are, the thing wouldn’t hold anyway, or would leak like a sieve.
But there are other things that aren’t disposable. When they’re broken, battered or bruised, you need to try and help fix them.
There are lots of both constructive and less-than constructive ways to do that…but we need to understand that just like no two people put a puzzle together exactly the same way…there is also no one set way to fix something you care about.
No matter what, If you value something, you should be willing to be a part of fixing it.
Over the 4th of July weekend, I was at a cookout with some friends. Most of the people I know are on the “more active” side of the political activity scale. Since early voting was just a few days away, the conversation turned to the election.
As it happens, July 4th was just two days after Judge Joe Brown voiced allegations about DA Amy Weirich’s sexual orientation. Needless to say, due to the freshness of the topic, this was at the top of the conversation list.
There was universal agreement that the attack was out of line. Just two years before the County Party had taken a stand in favor of equality for the LGBT community. It seemed wildly discordant that one of the party’s candidates would then turn around and try to use sexual orientation as a line of attack.
Then came the question, “Why is the SCDP such a bunch of clowns?”.
That got my attention.
The speaker went on to air a long list of grievances, many relevant, some less relevant.
I listened intently. We talked back and forth about some of the challenges. After hearing, yet another declaration of the party’s ineptitude I smiled and said, “You have the power to help change that. When’s the last time you came to a party re-organizing convention?”
The answer was either never, or so long ago its not relevant.
We talked about that. Eventually we agreed to disagree as to whether that kind of participation would do any good. Fatalism is a common refrain in Democratic politics, it seems.
This person is a good strong Democrat. Someone we should want working with us. But they don’t feel like its worth their time to fix it. Its not that the party is disposable to them, its that their so frustrated, they don’t know what to do, and they don’t feel like anyone else is doing anything (or knows what to do) either.
The party is factionalized, regionalized, and its members are often suspicious of each other…concerned about some grand conspiracy to somehow take what little power they feel they have away by empowering some other faction or another.
Its tragically comedic, but it goes back to old fights…some decades old, and grudges that have outlived the patrons.
I’m not going to pretend the body has a long history of being truly effective. In talking to folks who were involved in the 80′s and 90′s, it seems clear that the party has long been more focused on the minutiae and turf wars than on the kind of “global” goals that would bring about success in those Countywide contests that have been so fleeting.
There’s been an internal struggle over the “power of the party” which at the same time has rendered the party largely impotent. And truth be told, there are some elected officials who have benefitted by that impotence…though most of them, at this point, are either long gone, or are halfway out the door.
Putting Humpty together again means getting past some of these old fights. In the 2011-12 cycle, it looked like we were getting there. But much of the progress of that term was lost too easily, as new leadership came in, and much of the party’s institutional memory shifted out.
That’s not to blame Chairman Carson, or the new Executive Committee…because these things happen with leadership change.
But while the leadership at the top of the County Party structure may have been in flux, leadership in terms of elected officials within Shelby County…Mayors, City Council Members, Commissioners, State House and Senate members, and all the way up to Congress, has been largely stable, and completely disengaged.
When your elected Democrats aren’t engaged in the party, there’s no way to get around the leadership struggles…and lose a big part of the organization’s institutional memory in the process.
There’s an interesting dynamic between the County Party and elected Democratic officials in Shelby County…the lack of a working relationship of any kind.
Most elected officials have been able to stay in office just fine without the help of the County Party, so its reasonable to understand why they might not see the value in to having an effective organization…until things go wrong.
Then, just like disengaged “rank-and-file” Democrats out there who loudly complain about the party’s failures, so do the party’s electeds.
The most visible example of this is the statement made by Congressman Cohen on election night, which I quoted in this post.
I’m not saying Congressman Cohen is wrong, because he isn’t…but just like the conversation with my friend, its a bit hypocritical to criticize the County Party when you’ve not really been engaged in it.
Cohen has built a powerful campaign operation every cycle since 2006. His campaign has very strong fundamentals…and that’s a big reason why he wins consistently.
But as soon as the campaign season is over, that operation goes dark. The operators, by and large, go their separate ways, until the next time they need to assemble to defend the Congressman against a challenger.
That level of expertise is direly needed in the County party. And while some members of the Cohen team have engaged the party, and been largely flummoxed by the goings on, the Congressman hasn’t taken the opportunity to mentor and nurture party leadership outside his organization.
Its not my purpose to beat up on Congressman Cohen. He’s just one example of this scenario.
Truth is Mayor Wharton (the Democratic County Mayor from 2002 to 2009), amassed an impressive campaign structure in his own right in 2011 only to dismantle it and disengage. He’s just as guilty of doing this, as is every other elected Democrat in Shelby County…current or former.
Leaders don’t get to complain that something’s broken, then not try to be a part of working to fix it…especially when they’re associated with it (via party designation).
But lets be clear here. I’m not calling on electeds to set up another kind of ‘boss’ structure. Competing bosses…even long after they’re relevant, and the unproductive fights they engage in, are a big part of what brought us to where we are today.
I’m saying they should lend their expertise, and mentor up and coming leaders who can help the party become more effective.
The effectiveness vacuum we’re going through now is not for the lack of bosses, but because of bosses…and damage caused by them that no one has been able to repair.
I would hope our elected leaders would take part in helping repair that damage…without remaining part of the problem through neglect…or becoming part of a bigger problem through the strong-arm tactics of past bosses.
The local party has had structural problems for a long time.
What has happened this cycle is just a more extreme example of what happened in 2010, and nearly on par with the shenanigans of 2008…minus the success.
Lets get one thing clear: the party isn’t a sentient being. It takes a coalition of people working together to keep going. It takes a great deal of expertise, time and care to have a healthy party.
If the coalition that makes up the Executive Committee puts self-interest, or apathy, or any other negative thing ahead of the building, we find ourselves back at square one wondering, “what now”?
Maybe that’s where we start…with “What can I do to help” rather than just stating the obvious…that its broken.
If we don’t, we’ll find ourselves right back, in this same place in four years time…wondering how to put Humpty back together again…or if its even worth the effort to try.
It takes strength to admit when you’ve made a mistake.
I applaud him for that.
The circular firing squad that has been the hallmark of Democrats this election started long before the voting even really got kicked off.
A slew of Facebook posts from folks in and around the Democratic Party establishment, took aim at other Democrats for things that were, quite honestly, petty.
We put each other in the crosshairs in a primary election, instead of banding together to put Republicans in the crosshairs in the general. We suffered for that.
We fought internally instead of working together to get the most electable members of our slate elected (which is what the party should always do…its called campaign triage). We dragged friends into debates about minutiae. We lodged full frontal assaults on each other.
It was stupid.
But those distractions are part of why we got our asses kicked. Those distractions didn’t pop up overnight. They have been percolating for months…only to be brewed into a sour pot of failure in the only real election the Party is supposed to be preparing for…the County general election.
Over the course of early voting, I was watching who was turning out, and where. I’ve been working on a predictive model based on past performance, and I wanted to gauge how it was working. It still needs work, but there’s one thing I saw that alarmed me from the very beginning.
See, there’s this group of voters called “other”. Its a racial classification the Election Commission uses when someone doesn’t fill out that part (its optional) of the voter registration form.
“Others” make up about 42% of the total voting population. There are services out there you can subscribe to that will help you figure out this mystery one way or the other. I used an unnecessarily complicated formula based on census data, age, and turnout statistics from previous elections to figure out an estimate of the true racial breakdown of the voting population.
Here’s what I found. There were over 37,000 African-American early voters that pulled a Democratic ballot. Looking at the early voting numbers from the Commercial Appeal, that’s around 8000 more voters than our top two candidates on the ticket received from early voting. I calculate that there were about 6000 (+/- 5%) White Democratic voters (classified as other) in early voting. Those two combined are still less than the total our top two candidates lost by in early voting.
The long and the short of it is, crossover was rampant, and crossed just about every demographic line imaginable.
These numbers are preliminary. Once the all detail report is available, I’ll be able to better measure this against lists provided by private companies.
What it should tell us is, our candidates didn’t connect with voters well enough to be successful. Actually, that’s what every election loss should tell you.
When you make the decision to run for office, you have given yourself the opportunity for the kind of self-discovery that few other things can provide.
It doesn’t take long to figure out what you’re good at, and what you’re really bad at.
Delegation is not my strong point. I found that out in spades. But I am willing to literally work myself to death (I’m not sure what that says about me, but its true).
I made field the cornerstone of my campaign…to the detriment of fundraising and just about everything else (I believe in field and will still do it, but I sacrificed money, and ran out of time). Its a mistake I won’t make again if I ever decide to offer myself up.
I knocked on thousands of doors myself, and talked to so many people. I loved it.
By election day in August, I knew I wasn’t likely to win. I had expected to be running against Marilyn Loeffel…a perennial candidate in that district. I had ample reason to believe that if Loeffel was the GOP nominee, I would get some GOP crossover (even though she didn’t win, I did still get some support from Republicans…even though I’m about as liberal as they come).
But after I had time to look at the results, I found something. Lots of people in the old District 1 didn’t vote in that election. In fact, 1460 people who pulled Democratic primary ballots didn’t vote for me, or anyone. That’s 13.6% of all the Democrats in the old District 1 who participated in that election.
The cross-section of voters based on race isn’t particularly instructive. Lots of white and black people didn’t vote for me.
Why is that?
Is it because they made a decision about me based on my race/class/other arbitrary determination? Possibly. But that’s not the lesson I chose to learn from that experience. The lesson I took away from that was that I didn’t communicate effectively enough with those voters to earn their vote.
Its that simple.
I was angry for months after that election.
I was angry at other Democratic elected officials who I’ve supported for years, who didn’t see fit to endorse me (I was and still am very grateful to the ones who did). I vowed to never support them or even give them so much as a courtesy vote.
I was angry at the thousands of voters whose houses I canvassed, who didn’t even bother to show up and vote.
I was angry at myself, for spending so much time on a stupid campaign and putting my family’s finances in jeopardy.
I eventually got over myself…for the most part.
But I learned something about campaigning and about voters:
1. No one is paying as much attention to the issues as you want them to. Its your job to make your platform resonate.
2. No one will do it for you. You have to be smart and work your ass off if you want to get elected to anything.
3. Communicating your priorities means doing more than sending mailers, setting up websites, and yes, even canvassing. You have to make opportunities to make your case on the substantive issues of the day.
4. Its not the voters fault if they can’t find a reason to hit the button with your name on it…its your fault. You didn’t connect. You didn’t get your message out there effectively enough.
There was no way I was going to win that race under the circumstances. I didn’t effectively campaign enough (even though I’m still proud of my efforts) and the cards were stacked against me (in terms of ideological participation).
And while I didn’t get the outcome I wanted, I did get a valuable lesson in running for office…striking a balance between the resources you need to get elected (people, time and money) and the things you must do (communicate, contact, and capitalize on the issues) is critical.
This is a lesson the Shelby County Democratic Party need to try to take from this cycle, instead of continuing the circular firing squad that has been the hallmark of the organization since 2010.
Its natural for people to get angry after a loss. Its natural to assess blame, and seek out scapegoats. Its easy to do that based on demography. But the hard thing to do is step away from that anger and honestly critically analyze what just happened.
The truth of the matter is, blaming a demographic group for a loss is the best way to alienate that group…and eventually lose them forever. People don’t take kindly t voting their conscience than then being blamed for not doing what someone else wanted them to do.
That’s not a path we should travel.
White Democrats have taken the brunt of the abuse over the past two cycles for the party’s losses.
One could just as easily blame African-American voters for not showing up in August (in terms of turnout, White voters far exceed their countywide demographic balance based on population in August elections).
Here’s the truth. In early voting “white” voters out-voted their percentage of the total voting populace by 10 points. That’s huge.
“Black” voters, out-voted their overall percentage by just under 2%.
“Other” voters (I’m one of those), under-voted their percentage of the total voting population by 13 points.
Why not just blame the “others”? They didn’t turn out. Its their fault, right?
Others are typically younger (under 45), have diverse racial and class backgrounds, and, apparently, don’t vote in August.
How many “others” did Democrats target?
Or maybe you could look at it like this.
Of the 7 solidly Democratic County Commission districts, 5 had turnout that severely underperformed their percentage of the electorate. In all, that means 8.62% of the total vote in safe Democratic districts didn’t show up.
Why not blame the Democratic County Commission candidates in those districts for not working hard enough to turn out the vote? (6 Republican districts over-performed by nearly 7 points, making a +15 point advantage…or 65 to 35…which miraculously is about the margin of victory for Luttrell and Weirich).
There are a million ways to slice and dice blame.
But that doesn’t help us as we try to figure out how to win in August of 2018 any more than blaming one demographic group for not voting the way we think they should.
The truth is, they got their vote out better than we did, and we lost because of it. Plain and simple.
They connected with voters where we didn’t.
I don’t know what else can be said about that.
But the smart thing to do, is hold fire…especially on your allies. Then work on a plan to turnout enough voters…especially those who don’t normally turn out in August. That’s what I told members of the SCDP executive committee in February, and I stand by it today.
We didn’t match GOP voters on a 1:1 basis by Commission districts, and we (predictably) lost because of it.
Politics is a passionate business for those of us who spend an inordinate amount of time practicing it.
That passion can manifest itself in both productive and unproductive ways.
Its our job, as folks who pay attention to this stuff, to try and find productive, actionable solutions to losing.
Blame-storming isn’t productive.
How do we get more people to participate, to balance against GOP strongholds who have a culture of participation? That’s the question we need to be asking.
How do we find the voters, who push (D) every time in November, but don’t show up in August to show up? That’s the pathway to success.
Blaming one group or another isn’t productive. It’s a diversion that brings division and more losses in the future.
We can choose to ask ourselves these questions, and learn from the past two cycles (2010 and 2014) or we can keep doing what we’ve been doing…at our own peril.
We have an opportunity to learn and grow from this, if we will only accept it.
I hope we’ll choose to grow, instead of turning on each other and continuing to decline.
Thursday night’s election results are disappointing in a lot of ways. But they should also serve as a wakeup call…much like they did in 2010.
We had some candidates that were a drag on the ticket. Many candidates didn’t run effective (or any campaigns). Most didn’t raise enough money to be effective (or in some cases, relevant).
I tend to agree with the following statement Congressman Cohen made to Fox13:
“Some of our candidates made mistakes,” the congressman said,. “Our attorney general candidate Joe Brown had no business bringing up any personal issues with Amy Weirich and that turned a lot of people off. The Democrats in general and Ms. (Henri) Brooks’ problems turned people off too. Those two things I think cost Tarik Sugarmon, Ms. Banks, Mr. Chism and Ms. Halbert their jobs.”
But one group that’s not responsible for the losses are voters…contrary to what SCDP Chairman Bryan Carson said to WREG:
Bryan Carson is drawing a line in the sand. He’s got a message for those who call themselves Democrats and voted for Republican candidates running for Shelby County offices.
“I wish those Democrats would go ahead and just sign up and be Republicans. Go ahead and join the party because we don’t need you. You don’t support us,” said Carson.
Carson says he’s hurt by the outcome of this election. About 20 percent of the Democrats who voted cast ballots for Republicans running for county office.
As I said in this Facebook post, this is one of the dumbest statements after an election that a Chair could make.
If voters don’t like your candidates, you should examine why instead of blaming the voters.
Two candidates arrested for being stupid.
Those same two candidates said enough stupid to fill a set of encyclopedias of stupid.
The one candidate at the top of the ticket who projected competence (Deidre Malone) got tagged with the incompetence of the other two.
News cycle after news cycle was lost to these two doing stupid stuff…news cycles that could have been about issues absent their indiscretions.
Much of the bottom of the ticket did nothing, raised nothing, ran no campaign.
There was one bright spot. Look at Cheyenne…we need more Cheyenne’s.
She’s competent. She keeps her nose down. She doesn’t say dumb things. She does her job well and happily, without grandstanding.
We need a truckload of folks like Cheyenne.
The Shelby County Democratic Party didn’t do itself any favors.
According to state disclosures (I didn’t see the most recent pre-eletion disclosure listed), the party never had more than $16,000 on hand throughout the election cycle, despite having several large events that combined should have brought in tens of thousands of dollars.
In addition, the party spent more time with intra-party struggles than with building a volunteer base, or getting its message out to voters.
This has been a consistent problem with the party structure.
The Executive Committee isn’t the party…they’re representatives of folks who call themselves Democrats.
The Chair isn’t the party…the chair is the representative of the Executive Committee to the public.
People who pull Democratic primary ballots are the party. Both of the above groups are accountable to people who call themselves Democrats…and should be held accountable by them.
That’s been forgotten.
This is the question local Democrats need to be asking themselves. You need look no further than our partisan opponents to see what building looks like. The TNGOP has embarked on a massive training campaign, we have nothing equivalent.
Not all of this falls on the local party. Both the local and state party shoulder some of the blame for not developing candidates.
But damn. The biggest damn Democratic party organization in the state can’t get their shit together enough to put on some training? We can’t get it together enough to train up volunteers, operatives, and candidates to help propel us to victory?
That’s the problem, not crossover voters. Voters react to the choices before them. If those choices are bad, or look crazy, they won’t vote for them…period.
Even before the data is out, I’m willing to wager that Cheyenne got some GOP crossover. Why? Because she exudes competence.
Ed Stanton Jr. did the same in 2012.
That’s the lesson, not purity tests.
Its easy to blame storm…and I’m not trying to do that in this post. But Chairman Carson’s statement is out of line.
Confidence of competence wins elections…not the “consonant” behind the person’s name.
Building a bench of competent, consistent campaigners, operatives and candidates is the task of the party.
There’s four years to do this, and we already know which seats we need to be targeting.
Hopefully, the party will choose to stop his own blame storm and start working on building something positive.
Go vote in the Shelby County elections!
Polls are open from 7am to 7pm today, Thursday, August 7th.
Don’t forget to take a photo ID!
Here’s a list of approved ID’s.
Not sure who’s on the ballot? Here’s a sample ballot.
Not sure where to vote? Click here to find out.
Seriously people. No excuses. If you don’t vote, you can still complain…but no one will take you seriously.
Take some time and be a part of shaping tomorrow’s County leadership.
(And vote in the state/federal primary while you’re there)