This weekend the Executive Committee of the TNDP will come together to elect a new chair. The race for the Chairmanship, which began with around 6 candidates, has predictably narrowed to two: current Treasurer Dave Garrison of Nashville and former State Senator from Weakley Co., Roy Herron.
I’m not going to get into the pros and cons of either candidate. I’ve talked to several Executive Committee members in Shelby Co. I’ve read many of the emails that have been circulated in support of both men. I know what I don’t know… the internal politics of the Executive Committee and their ideas of what needs to be done or how the next two years need to be handled.
On Saturday, perhaps we’ll have a better understanding of what the Executive Committee thinks those priorities are. In all likelihood, we won’t know much more about anything. It will be up to whoever wins, and the staff they bring to the table, to set many of the priorities going forward.
There are only 72 people that have a say in this process… the members of the Executive Committee. The candidates that remain have largely made their case to their electorate. This is an insider’s game. We can debate whether that’s a good thing or not. Actually, I think that would be a productive debate… but not for today.
Since 2006 the number of elected Democrats in the State House and Senate has declined from solid majorities to irrelevant minorities. With just seven members in the Senate and 28 in the House (22 of which are from largely urban, solidly Democratic districts), it’s fair to say that the Democratic decline in Tennessee is either at, or near a bottom.
Determining whether or not this is the bottom of the decline is largely up to us. That is the topic of the remainder of this post.
While the losses in the past several years have been painful, we have an opportunity. The long malaise that led to these losses didn’t start in 2006 or any time since. They started long before then. They started with an institutional complacency that, unfortunately, has not found a bottom yet.
Democrats lost seats drawn by Democrats in every election between 2006 and 2010. In 2012, when the Republicans took control of redistricting, we predictably lost more. We knew this would happen and we were unprepared to reverse the trend. Now is the time to begin building a new beginning for the party.
To do that, we will need to build an army of supporters statewide. This means working with rural Democrats to help them build strength. The hard truth is less than 41% of the state’s population resides in the five most populous counties. If we don’t start focusing on the other 59%, we have no hope of ever turning the page on our fate as a party. That doesn’t mean walking away from the issues our largely urban caucus currently is focusing on, but finding ways to make those issues relevant to people in rural areas.
There is a way to do this. We have to find it. It is, truly, our only path back to relevance.
In finding that path there are some specific things we need, and some even more specific things we don’t need. Understanding the difference is critical to any success we might find in the coming years.
There are a lot of things we do need, but first I think it’s more important to talk about what we don’t need as we look forward to the next two years.
No Prima Donnas – We don’t need a leader who will make the most dangerous place in Tennessee the space between himself and the media. This can’t be about personality. It must be about management expertise. If either candidate is thinking of using this as a jumping off point for something greater, I pray that whoever wins will focus on effective management rather than showboating. We don’t have anything to showboat about. Sometimes quiet, competent management is the best solution to reversing a decline.
Keep it simple, stupid – We don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on turnkey strategies from places that bear no resemblance to our state. They don’t and can’t work.
Sit Down, Shut up, Get to Work – We don’t need a leader who will talk out of turn on policy issues. Leave the policy fights to the people in the trenches…the 35 elected Democrats who serve in the General Assembly and activists who have been working to move the ball down the field for decades. Support them. That is your role. Don’t make their re-election any harder than it was going to be in the first place.
Fundraising - We need a Chair that knows how to raise money and a lot of it. With groups like the TFA spending $75,000 to remove a solidly conservative member over a policy pissing contest and Students First spending several hundred thousand dollars in support of vouchers, funding will be a key component of any success. The Chair also needs to encourage donors to become more active beyond giving to the party and candidates. Right now we don’t have an answer to some of these well-funded independent groups. We need one.
Management - We need someone who will be an effective manager that nurtures and helps build future leaders. Someone who will build some institutional professionalism that we haven’t had in a very long time. In doing this, the most positive result is that these individuals move on from the confines of the party to become campaign staff in the 2014 and later elections. This also needs to happen more on the county and division level.
Candidate Development – We need someone who will focus on candidate development immediately. Over the past four years I’ve heard of way too many instances where candidates were being courted just days before the filing deadline. This is unacceptable. We can’t expect people to be sacrificial lambs just to achieve a certain number of candidates. We have to involve them early, get them prepared with the tools they will need to succeed and then get out of their way.
Playbook - We do need someone who will build a playbook. While policy fights aren’t necessarily productive from the party Chair, providing candidates with the information they will need to build a case for new representation in their district is productive. Leaving a new candidate to their own devices is a recipe for disaster. Take that supporting role mantle and run with it.
Activating the Base – Finally, as I mentioned at the beginning, we need to have a leader who is focused on activating solidly Democratic voters beyond just getting them out to vote. Waiting until the August before the election to get people involved is a strategy for failure. The more people we have involved early, the more likely we can develop the candidates, staff and volunteers that will make our campaigns more successful.
It says a lot about where we are as a party that fundamental things like this even need to be mentioned…but they do. It seems like some folks just believe things will magically turn around. I’m not patient enough to wait for magic.
For people who aren’t on the State Executive Committee…like myself, this is a critical moment. What happens in the next two years will either put in motion a turnaround or further delay our return to relevance in statewide affairs.
It is also important that all Democrats in the state become familiar with their Committee members. You can find a list here. Introduce yourself to them. Start a conversation. Politics is about relationships. Build a relationship with the folks who represent you in your party.
For rank and file Democrats, understanding the role of the body is key. The Executive Committee is supposed to provide oversight and be our representatives in party issues. That means sometimes taking a skeptical eye to things, even if you voted for the Chair. It is incumbent on the Executive Committee to provide adequate oversight. The lack of oversight is part of what brought us to where we are today.
In 2010 there were only 9 of 66 races for the Executive Committee seats were contested. That’s a ridiculously low number, especially in the face of the massive losses that we saw in 2006 and 2008. This also says something about our party. If we, as the Democratic faithful, don’t start seeing a change in the months after the election this weekend, it may be time to think about changing who represents us on the Committee.
But now is not the time to talk about that. Until that time, I wish whoever gets elected Chair the best and hope they know I stand ready to assist them.
|Your idea of perfection is not my idea of perfection,
My idea of perfection is not yours.
That doesn’t necessarily mean we’re wrong,
Just different, like everyone is.
The world would not be better if everyone thought like me,
The world is best when we’re all thinking…
The world is best when we’re talking…
The world is best when we’re listening…
The world is best when we’re acting…
But when these things stop working, we all suffer.
If we want to stop suffering, we have to stop seeking things to disagree on, and be willing to focus on the things we do agree on.
Otherwise, we’re not going anywhere.
Obviously, thoughts and prayers go out to the folks who find themselves the victim of mother nature’s wrath.
If you want to help, I suggest donating to the Red Cross. They’ve set up a page about their relief efforts in the affected areas.
While West Tennessee was spared the kind of damage they saw in and around Tuscaloosa, AL, the possibility of flooding is still very real as the Mississippi River rises to levels not seen since the 1930’s.
Below is a quick roundup of the news from West Tennessee on the potential for flooding.
Overwhelming Devastation in Smithville
Shelby County works its way around flooded roads after 8-inch rainfall Wednesday
Mayor Luttrell Declares State of Emergency in Shelby County
Food Bank Seeks Donations For Mid-South Storm Victims
20 Homes Evacuated in Dyer County
Collierville Backyards Turn Into Lakes
State of Emergency Declared In Shelby County
Wolf River Floods Rossville, TN
Millington Flood Concerns Rise Along With Mississippi River
All Eyes on the Mississippi River
Flooding Fears Cause Residents to Prepare
Flood Victims In Arkansas Assess The Damage
Animal Shelter Need Foster Help Due To Flood Waters
Flood Leads Mayor to Declare State of Emergency
My first semester back I was in Mike’s class. His encouragement and support led me to audition for he Mock Trial team which he also led, and have helped me push through the difficulties of trying to go to school, and keep the bills paid.
Even though I’ve only known Mike for just over a year, his influence and support has had a huge influence on me. Needless to say, I’m very sad to learn of his passing. He was a great teacher and a great man.
Rest in Peace Mike.
Below is an email sent to Political Science students from Dr. Matthias Kaelberer, Chair of the University of Memphis Political Science Department.
It is with great sadness that I have to let you know that our instructor and undergraduate advisor Mike Collins died last night at a local hospital after a long illness. He was fifty-seven years old.
In addition to being the Political Science undergraduate advisor and an instructor in the department, Mike was an attorney who worked tirelessly for fair housing and other other social causes. There exists a community of lawyers that became attorneys as a direct result of Mike’s guidance and inspiration. His work with the University of Memphis Mock Trial Team was a masterful combination of classroom teaching, coaching, and personal development that prepared his former students for future careers in law, business, and other professional fields. His contributions to this University as an Instructor and as a mentor will live on in the success of his former students.
His family will be holding funeral services in his hometown in Middle Tennessee, and details on that service are still being finalized. The University of Memphis Mock Trial Team is planning an on-campus memorial service for his students, colleagues and friends, and will announce details as soon as those plans are finalized. I will also send out a separate e-mail with our new procedures for advising shortly.
Dr. Matthias Kaelberer
Professor and Chair
Department of Political Science
The University of Memphis
Congratulations to Antonio Parkinson on his Democratic Primary win in the HD-98 election.
This was a very low turnout election. The Commercial Appeal reports just 629 of the 30,000+ registered voters turned out to vote.
The general election is on March 8th, the same day as the scheduled Memphis City Schools charter surrender vote. No Republicans filed petitions for the seat, so barring a huge write-in campaign, Parkinson will serve the district in Nashville for the next two years.