Yesterday I published a letter to the House and Senate Democratic Caucuses asking them to reconsider their push to alter the makeup of the Executive Committee of the Tennessee Democratic Party.
I got several emails and calls from Executive Committee members and Democratic legislators. We all affirmed that we want our party to be as strong as it can be, and that we have to work harder and smarter to make that happen.
The list of people I communicated with was hardly exhaustive, even though I included my contact information in my email to all of them. Still, it was nice to hear from folks, get their perspective, and share mine.
Everyone I spoke to acknowledged that we have to do things differently. What that different entails is the devil in the details.
Last night I got word that the bill has been taken off notice. It will not be pursued this calendar year.
I didn’t have anything to do with this. My words, and advocacy, eloquent or not didn’t have an impact. This bill was taken off notice before I published what I wrote.
This may be seen by some as a victory for the Executive Committee. Truth be told, its a stay of execution at best. It should be treated as such.
The legislature has the power to make a unilateral change to the structure of the Executive Committee if it so chooses as set forth in Tennessee law:
Title 2 Elections
Chapter 13 Political Parties and Primaries
Part 1 Political Party Organization
Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-13-103 (2012)
2-13-103. State executive committee — Election — Composition — Terms.
(a) Members of the state executive committee for each party are elected at the regular August primary election immediately before the election of the governor.
(b) In each party’s primary its voters in each senatorial district shall elect one (1) man and one (1) woman as members of the state executive committee for terms of four (4) years beginning on September 15 following their election.
(c) Persons elected shall qualify by taking the oath of office and filing it with the coordinator of elections.
HISTORY: Acts 1972, ch. 740, § 1; T.C.A., § 2-1304.
Folks need to keep this in mind before they celebrate any victory. This isn’t over. I can guarantee it.
There are those, both inside and around the party, that prefer to have the dirty laundry of the party dealt with in private.
I’m not one of those.
I believe that talking about things openly and honestly is the only way we can make a real future.
I believe we need to understand the expectations and responsibilities of both groups…and the challenges we face….to adequately assess the issues we face. And based on a quick accounting of the facts, we face a heavy uphill climb.
That’s the only way we can gain ground. Think of it as a 12 step program with two steps. Recognize…Do.
Most people don’t vote for a party. They vote for individuals.
While Democrats enjoyed 140 years of success, that success wasn’t necessarily the result of a strong party…but strong people and tradition.
We’ve been blessed with strong leaders. Leaders that understood leaders aren’t born, but built.
Over time, and through the changes of that time, we forgot that. We stopped building leaders and doubled down on back-benchers (both in the Legislature and the Executive Committee). In the process, we lost sight of the fundamentals that leadership requires.
That’s why we are where we are. We stopped building. It will take strong leadership with a real long-term plan to reverse course.
Most of all, it will take a commitment to the fundamentals of running a party from all the stakeholders. It will require doing things differently. It will require trust.
None of those things happen overnight.
The harsh reality is we’ve had a rift in the party for some time. That rift has only grown over the past few years…borne of losses, expectations, and unfulfilled promises…some real and some imagined.
The harsh reality is we can’t do things the way we have done them. The world has changed, and we’ve let it leave us behind to a large degree. This is only further complicated by the reality that the only seats we hold in the state legislature and Congress, are the ones we were allowed to keep…for the most part.
The harsh reality is there is little faith in the current administration of the party. That may or may not be fair. I can’t make a judgement. What I can say is the party has now, and has always had three distinct constituencies: The Executive Committee, the elected officials, and rank and file Democrats. All would do well to recognize that reality, include people, and grow.
Those three groups would also do well to serve as checks and balances for each other. The voters reign supreme in this equation, if they choose to. The losses we’ve experienced are due in large part to a lack of recognition on that front.
We also have to make our case to voters. Legislators have, for a very long time had an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude. That may work in liberal Midtown Memphis, or Whitehaven…which is 97% Democratic, but it doesn’t work in most other places. That’s why we only have the seats we were left with.
We should be thankful for those seats. They could have been taken from us in Redistricting with some more creative line drawing.
I was able to do it, with very little effort.
It took 30 years of rhetoric and junk policy at the Federal level to turn Tennessee red. People like to point to the Income tax debate…or the candidacy of a black Presidential candidate.
That’s all crap. “Fend for yourself Federalism” is more to blame than anything else. And we have Democrats that are still for that. This is part of the problem.
Harold Ford Jr. is black, and he carried 48.6% of the state.
The Income Tax is a non-issue. The voters have spoken.
The truth is the electorate was tired of getting their asses kicked for working harder. They’re frustrated that their circumstances, despite their work, aren’t working out. They’re sick of people gaming the system and getting away with it while they suffer.
And if this guy, who’s supposed to be on their side isn’t getting it done, maybe he’s not on their side.
It is that simple.
From 2002 to 2007 we had a “jobless recovery” followed by a massive recession. The unemployment rate in 2002 was 5.3%. It peaked in 2009 at 10.5%. Now it stands at 7.7%.
Voters are frustrated at the lack of a real response, so they voted another way…or didn’t vote…and we lost as a result.
The lesson: When people are doing better, or believe they have a chance, we do better. When we authentically care about the lives of our brethren, and show that care in our humanity, we win.
Somehow, somewhere, we forgot that.
We need to remember that regular folks who work every day and don’t get what they deserve for their work are our key constituency. Not folks at cocktail parties or hanging with big wigs at Morton’s.
There is hope, but it requires work.
Real work, and a workable plan that is supported by all those interested.
Real work from everyone throughout the chain.
That real work and real plan has to be supported with real investment. Looking at the most recent disclosure tells me there’s not much investment going on. Of course, people don’t invest in vaporware.
As for the plan…that’s not up to me. But I know what’s real and what’s bullshit.
So does everyone that’s got a brain in their head.
The question we need to ask ourselves is how hard and smart are we willing to work to win?
The old way isn’t working. The new way has been dismissed as a fad without even being tried.
Are we willing to change the way we do business to win? Or are we ready to concede now, before the first shot is fired?
I don’t know how to concede.
That’s all the hope you’ll get from me…resolve.
I hope to God you’ve got that same resolve…but if you don’t, don’t expect me to wait for you to find it. I don’t have time to wait. Neither does the party.
Below is my letter to the members of the House and Senate Democratic Caucuses. If you would like to send a letter, you may do so by clicking here.
Senate and House Democratic Caucus Members:
My name is Steve Ross. I’m a resident of Shelby Co., a former Democratic candidate for Shelby Co. Commission, a member of the Shelby Co. Democratic Party Executive Committee, and a Democratic activist/blogger.
I’m writing to voice my opposition to the amendments proposed that would make the bills HB898/SB297sponsored by Rep. Powell and Sen. Finney.
The past six years have been hard for Democrats. The losses of the 2008 election are one of the reasons I made a personal decision to get more involved in state and local politics. In that time I’ve worked to highlight the importance of focusing on the fundamentals to build a strong state party, and local parties in support of our candidates and ideals. I’ve made it my personal mission to bring insight to important issues, often ignored by traditional media, through my blogs – vibinc.com and the now defunct speaktopower.org, as well as other activities.
While there’s no question that we have some fundamental problems within our party, it is my heartfelt belief that seeking a unilateral change to the structure of the Executive Committee is both short sighted, and will only further weaken the party by ripping the scab off deep wounds that exist. Re-opening this wound will make it more difficult for our party to heal and will diminish any hopes of holding the ground we currently have, not to mention making gaining ground.
While I was disappointed that my preferred candidates for Chair did not win over the past two cycles, I understand my opportunity to have a voice in who becomes chair in the future is through lobbying current Executive Committee members, and if they are unresponsive, through my work to elect someone more responsive in August 2014. Further, as a Democrat, and someone who values the democratic process, I understand we must work together to show our strength. This effort does not affirm that value.
While I oppose this current effort, know that I am not completely opposed to a potential change in structure. In fact, change is something I have openly advocated for in the past, and will likely advocate for in the future.
That said, any proposed change cannot be imposed on our party. It must be made with the cooperation of the State Executive Committee and Democrats throughout the state. If we are to be the party “of the people”, we must include them in decisions that impact them.
Thank you for your time and service.
Several sources have emailed me the proposed changes to the TNDP Executive Committee…and by now Knoxviews and LeftWingCracker has published it as well…so I don’t feel all that bad sharing it with you.
The proposed changes would actually increase the current membership from 72 to a current total of 86ish:
• No changes are being made to the 66 members of the Executive Committee that are elected as one man and one woman from each state senate district;
• The amendment states that the House Democratic Leader shall appoint six members to the Executive Committee, two from each of Tennessee’s grand divisions, for a term of two years;
• The amendment states that the Senate Democratic Leader shall appoint six members to the Executive Committee, two from each of Tennessee’s grand divisions, for a term of two years;
• The amendment says each U.S. Congressman, if a Democrat, shall serve on the Executive Committee or appoint a member to the Executive Committee;
• The amendment says each U.S. Senator, if a Democrat, shall serve on the Executive Committee or appoint a member to the Executive Committee;
• The amendment says Tennessee’s governor, if a Democrat, shall serve on the Executive Committee or appoint a member to the Executive Committee;
• The amendment states that the Executive Committee may create ex-officio voting positions, provided that the number of such positions shall not exceed nine members.
These changes would see the Committee balloon to as many as 99 members…assuming all the slots were filled.
Now a bunch of hysteria has been stirred up over the “dismantling of the Executive Committee” over the weekend. I don’t know who’s responsible, but I do know one thing: If electeds were talking to their Executive Committee, none of this would have happened.
Apparently they not only aren’t talking, they’re not communicating.
Communication has been a consistent problem surrounding the party since before we lost the Senate leadership in 2006.
What I want to know is how anyone in their right mind thinks making the body bigger will somehow make it more effective? This just makes the cat herding even more difficult.
The most interesting part of this is…aside from creating 14 (for now) new Executive Committee members, I’m not sure what this does in practical terms to further the interests of the remaining Democratic legislators in Nashville.
This would actually increase urban leadership…though maybe not the percentage…which is not where we’re getting creamed. Its rural areas that we’ve been losing ground.
So I’m confused. Aside from getting to appoint their 12 closest friends, and pissing off the current Executive Committee, what exactly does this accomplish?
Another thing: Taking into account the level of hysteria that’s been stirred up over this whole affair, I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t a bit of dog wagging going on here from the party.
Considering the multiple sources that I got this from, and their commentary, it seems pretty clear that the proposal, as it stands now, represents a compromise.
Who knows what the original amendment looked like.
But was the hysteria necessary, was it ginned up to be Machiavellian, or was it borne out of a lack of disclosure? Probably the latter. I doubt many in the party, or elected officials even know who Machiavelli is [/sarcasm]. Either way, it doesn’t bode well for the sponsors case.
Anyone who’s been paying attention since before 2009 knows there’s been some serious fractures between the elected officials and the party. There’s been frustration and anger, finger pointing and more.
What there hasn’t been is solutions or compromise. Remember, that’s the foundation of Democracy.
By trying to force feed this change, rather than use the party bylaws structure to change the way the party does business (like by establishing a steering committee that gives the electeds more power in decisions, which is something I would be open to BTW) legislators are trying to bully their way into getting their way.
One commenter at opines that this is about their guy not winning the Chair.
Kinda hard to argue with that.
So we’re left with a fight between two groups of Democrats, both elected, both deserving large shares of the blame (IMHO) for the losses over the past 3+ cycles, and neither doing anything that I can see that would prevent the Titanic from hitting the iceberg.
In fact, they both seem hell bent on playing chicken with it.
Its dumb. Its short sighted. Its not productive.
In the end, the sponsors of this bill end up looking like either bullies or whiners…neither of which are flattering. The State Executive Committee, as a whole looks self-interested and still aloof.
Nobody wins…unless the target I just put on my back somehow unites the under a common cause.
I should be so lucky.
Here’s a idea. Be adults. Work together. Stop being petty. Start talking about the fundamentals I mentioned in my last post.
Most of all, stop being distracted by what you can’t do together and start doing the things you CAN do together.
You just might find some of the challenging areas open up and become easier with a little cooperation.
Over the weekend, the Shelby County Democratic Party held its bi-annual caucus…the first step in electing new leadership for the party. It was organized and orderly. Different folks supported different candidates, but everyone understood it wasn’t personal…just part of the process.
In a couple of weeks we’ll get together again to elect Executive Committee members and a new Chair. I anticipate this will also be an orderly affair, and at the end of the day, while there may be some disappointment, folks will come out of it ready to work to elect Democrats…because that’s what the process is REALLY all about.
P.S. Big ups to Rose Ann Bradley and her Convention team for organizing a great caucus.
After such a nice event, imagine my surprise when I ran across a post at KnoxViews (a good Democratic blog out of Knox Co.) that reported State Sen. Lowe Finney (D-Jackson) and newly elected State Rep. Jason Powell (D-Nashville) were proposing a bill that would dramatically change the structure of the elected State Executive Committee. That structure is unknown at this time.
What a buzzkill.
There’s no question there are serious problems with the Democratic Party in Tennessee. It’s been a slow steady decline here since before 2006. A quick search of the tag TNDP just here at my blog will net you a wealth of writing on the subject. Some of that writing, admittedly, is better than others.
The question is, “Does the prescription fit the symptoms?” That’s where things get dicey. I’m sure legislators see one set of symptoms, Executive Committee members agree with them on some, and disagree on others. Folks on the outside looking in, like me for instance, see yet another set of symptoms.
So, if you blame the Executive Committee for the problems with the party, then I suppose changing the way the Executive Committee is selected is one way to go.
Unfortunately, the evidence doesn’t support the idea that the Executive Committee is solely to blame. This is a systemic problem that has been in the works for a long time. It is the result of a lack of discipline in terms of maintaining the fundamentals of a strong party. For the uninitiated those are, in no particular order: Fundraising, Organizing, Leadership Development, and Activism.
The fundamentals for a strong party I listed above, make up a four legged stool. It takes everyone, from elected officials and Executive committee members to county parties and coalition groups…not to mention the voters themselves…to keep that stool strong and intact. Right now we have a broken stool.
If we added up what we have of all these four fundamentals, we might have a leg and a half. No cross supports. No seat. Just a leg an a half. We have to get back to the fundamentals to rebuild the stool.
Past Chairs of the party have talked about this to some degree. The lack of support from the Caucuses made it harder for any of these fundamentals to get stronger. Those cross supports were missing, and that made us not only weaker, but much more vulnerable.
I’m interested to know what our elected officials are doing to help build up those legs and supports. I rarely see them at local party meetings. I have no doubt that’s the case in more rural areas. How do these elected officials expect to stay that way without helping build their local parties? What’s more, how do they expect to gain seats if they’re not out in the field working to build other county parties outside their areas?
There’s not a person elected to anything that did it by themselves. It takes a team. Right now, there’s a rift in the team between two sets of duly elected officials: one that represents people in the party, and another that represents people in the legislature. Repairing that rift is what’s needed, not creating another rift.
There’s no question that Finney and Powell could get changes to the Executive Committee passed. There’s also no question in my mind that the Republican majority would hold this accomplishment up as the single shining achievement of the minority party come November of 2014.
There’s also no question that the current Executive Committee would have to serve out their terms…creating two more years of ugliness. I wonder if that’s what Sen. Finney wants as he heads into what will likely be a difficult contest in a newly drawn district.
I don’t think so.
If legislators don’t like the direction of the party, they can help get people elected to the Executive Committee that reflect their views. That would have the same window as any proposed legislative idea.
It would also force competitive elections for the Executive Committee and get those legislators out talking to regular people all over the state.
That just might not be a bad thing.
Details matter, and that’s why I was happy to read these four posts about the upcoming vote on lengthening the term of the TNDP Chair – 4 More Years, Rushing and Hushing, Yep, and UPDATE:TNDP Chair Term.
This is the kind of internal stuff that people just don’t think about. In fact, I would bet that most people who self-identify as Democrats have no idea who the current Chair of the Party is, nor do they care. Further, based on participation and the scant number of Executive Committee elections that were actually contested, there’s a great deal of question as to whether people really know how the Chair is selected at all.
Its not that these folks aren’t interested in the fate of the party, its that, like most people, they have lives outside of politics and rely on their elected officials to represent them well on such matters. That’s Representative Democracy.
Anyone can seek to become better informed about the goings on of our party, if they choose. The Party Bylaws are online, and have been since the original Ning redesign back in Spring of 2009. The contact information of the Executive Committee is also online and easily accessible. As are other resources that an interested individual may want to peruse.
One thing that is not readily available online are Agendas and Minutes of the meetings. Our Executive Committee members are elected officials, as set forth by State Law – (TCA 2-13-103). As constituents of these elected officials, we should have access to the Agendas and Minutes of meetings of both parties at our fingertips. Considering the availability of technology this is not a burden. In fact, it would help people understand what the party is doing.
Failing that, you’re best alternative is to get in touch with your Executive Committee members, (everyone has two) and ask them what’s going on or questions about the process. Not quite as open, but easy enough.
But getting back to the minutiae, the question of whether or not the Chair of the party should serve a 2 year or 4 year term is actually pretty important. Four years is a long time. Getting a majority of the Executive Committee to decide to remove a Chair (as set forth in Article V Section 4) is fraught with problems. You don’t try to take down someone if you’re not sure you can do it. Paybacks suck. So with that in mind, a 2 or 4 year term can have long-lasting consequences.
Proponents of 4 year terms say if brings a level of continuity to the office. Its hard to make changes in 2 years. They probably point to the term of the DNC as an example. All of that’s well and good, but the Chair of the DNC is a much more public office. Lots more eyeballs looking. TNDP Chair, not so much.
There is already an issue with transparency, outside the confines of the Executive Committee (which I pointed out earlier concerning Agendas and Minutes), also, the rules of the party outside the By-Laws are not published online, which means that certain processes aren’t known, which leads to all kinds of conspiracy theories and claims of malfeasance a la the Shelby County Re-Org of 2009.
After that mess, there were some assurances that processes and procedures would be more transparent, but that hasn’t really happened. Are two 2 year terms not enough to address these issues, or did they just fall by the way side?
I’m pretty dead set against 4 year terms. I think that while it may guarantee someone good gets to stay in for a while, so do 2 year terms…they just have to get elected again. If they’re doing a good job it shouldn’t be a problem.
Also, I don’t know too many people who are willing to give up 4 years of their life to such a thankless job. Sure, there are some, but four years is a long time for anyone, including a Chair and the Executive Committee to commit to something.
Personally, I think the term should be 2 years with a mandatory retention vote after 1 year. This “vote of confidence” would give the party time to re-adjust if things needed re-adjusting before the elections. It wouldn’t give much continuity, but I’m pretty sure, aside from some key folks, that the staff would be retained, if for no other reason that canning them would really screw things up.
Of course, I’m also the guy that thinks the Chair shouldn’t take a salary, or if they do, it should be minimal. I don’t think being Chair is a full time job. That’s what an Executive Director is for. I don’t think the Chair needs to be hands on, if said chair has effectively communicated a vision and direction for the party with tangible goals, and adequately delegated those tasks.
Realistically, I see the role of the Chair as the “Honorary CEO”. Someone who keeps an eye on what’s going on, makes sure his key staff is achieving goals, and raises money. That’s it.
Last time I checked, honorary positions weren’t compensated.
So, since I don’t think the Chair should be compensated, asking someone to volunteer for 2 years is hard enough, 4 years is madness.
Nope, I’m more interested in the TNDP building a professional staff of qualified individuals that know the state outside the 440 loop. People that know how to organize and support local parties and candidates. People that know their turf and become effective campaigners. They go out and build some successes, then grow up, go out on their own, and find a place to turn around. Wash, rinse, repeat.
If we’re doing that, who the chair is, and how long they serve shouldn’t matter.
When we start really doing that, I’ll be interested in talking about how long the Chair should serve. Until then, how about we focus on some things that really matter like Candidate recruitment and development and fundraising. That’s what actually wins elections.