Oct 28 2014

Media Fail – 1, Transparency – 0

Posted by Steve Ross in elections, media, Shelby County

How I long for the good ole days.

How I long for the good ole days.

Once upon a time I thought the media was a defender of democracy. It was a check on the power government exercised. It was a force for good that sought to keep the people connected and the politicians and bureaucracy honest.

Perhaps it was naiveté, or my fond memories of great journalists from the late 70’s through much of the 80’s and early 90’s.

I gave up any illusions of this fairy tale long ago.

That’s not to say there aren’t great journalists out there…they’re just fewer and farther between…and they’re trapped in a business environment where quantity, punch, and social media ‘engagement’ trumps a balanced account of the news.

Such is the case with this truly ignorant report from WREG that aired in July.

The web story is pretty benign, but the report that actually aired takes a Gary Vosot approach to reporting that demands you turn every fallen acorn into a “sky is falling” event.

The news item I’m referencing involves a little known report called the “Participating Voter List”, aka PVL.

What is the PVL?

The PVL is exactly what it sounds like. Its a list of people who have participated in an election. It includes your name and address, precinct information, and in primary elections, which primary ballot you chose to vote on.

Independent observers, political consultants, and campaigns use the PVL to see who’s voted, which areas are turning out more than others, and to tailor their communications to people who haven’t voted by purging the names of people who have voted from their direct communication list (mail, phone, and canvassing).

If you don’t want annoying calls, knocks, or mail, vote early and all that will stop…if the campaign is managed effectively.

Aside from primary ballot information, there is no information in the PVL that’s any more dangerous to your privacy than the information from an old school phone book, or white pages dot com.

But reporter Michael Quander’s piece makes it sound as if the very act of voting could endanger your privacy in some way.

That’s simply not the case. There are far easier and more informative ways and places to get that information than the Election Commission…though you’d never know it from his actual report.

Because of Quander’s report, the Election Commission now only sends the PVL out by request, instead of publishing it in the deep dark recesses of the Election Commission website where only people who know where it is can find it.

Why is the PVL important?

The PVL is important because it is a way to, in nearly real time, see what’s going on with an election.

The PVL was how Joe Weinberg and I found the redistricting errors that resulted in over 3000 voters receiving the wrong ballot in the August 2012 election.

At that time, the PVL was posted directly on the Election Commission’s website daily. Because of this, we were able to run our tests promptly and without waiting for a gatekeeper to open the gate for us (other than waiting for the report to be posted). This allowed both of us the ability to work, as volunteers…using our own time and getting paid nothing for our efforts, to expose one of the greatest election screw-ups in recent memory.

Had the PVL’s only been available by request, it may have taken several more days to complete our tests, causing a greater delay in resolving the problem, and potentially disenfranchising thousands of more voters in the process.

There is a small, tightly knit group of mostly volunteers, on both sides of the aisle, who pay very close attention to this report. Any delay is a huge setback because we are working on our own time, and of our own initiative.

Thanks to another barrier being placed due to unnecessary fear drummed up by this report, the next election disaster, should it occur, will take days longer to identify.

Way to go Channel 3.

Playing both sides of the privacy fence

But what is perhaps most perversely ironic is that the PVL is more safe than many of the methods WREG, and other commercial websites use to make money off of you.

Have you ever noticed that things you’ve browsed on Amazon or other online retailers regularly show up on ads at completely unrelated websites?

That monetization of “Big Data” is something every single news website in the country uses to generate revenue. It uses cookies, scripts, and your browser history to tailor ads to you, to increase their revenue.

In doing so, they’re taking advantage of your ignorance of potential privacy concerns far more than the Election Commission or any other government agency that is required by law to publish or make available information about you and yours.

A blow to good reporting

Aside from the report being…just dumb…the Election Commission’s decision to no longer post the PVL is also a blow to reporters who know what to do with the report…other than stir up unnecessary FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) in the minds of viewers.

In years past, experienced reporters and election observers have used the report to do good journalism in the public interest. I remember the first time I started seeing reports like this, but in particular, the work of Commercial Appeal reporter Zack McMillian back in 2010 when he was on the political beat.

He used the information in a way that challenged me to dig even deeper into the report…which ultimately led to the discoveries Dr. Weinberg and I made going public.

Journalism is supposed to both inform people, and make those who engage in it, either by profession or by hobby, better. Quander’s report doesn’t do that. It preys on the uninformed fears of people, who are already scared of the very big data his company makes money off of.

So way to go Michael Quander, and the Producers, News Directors, and other influential decision-makers at WREG Channel 3. You’ve just made it harder for people just like you to do their job. I know you’re proud.

Oct 22 2014

The November Election Post I’ve Been Meaning To Write

Posted by Steve Ross in elections, State Politics

Wedding Night After Party

Wedding Night After Party

Election day is right around the corner, and I’ve been meaning to do a post on all of the Constitutional amendments that are on the ballot this November…but I’ve been a little busy.

After 5 years together, my beloved Ellyn and I got hitched back on October 11th. Needless to say, the wedding plans took a lot of time to put together.

But now that the wedding is over, and so is the planning, I’ve got a little more time to think about the upcoming election…and especially the amendments.

They’re not that complicated, but they’re also not as easy to sift through as you might think.

With that in mind, I’m going to touch on the amendments in this post. I may write about the state and federal races later, and I’m working on a post about the City’s “Civil Service” referendum as we speak.

A note on Constitutional Amendments in Tennessee

For a constitutional amendment to pass in Tennessee, two things must happen:

1. The “yes” votes for the amendment must make up the majority.
2. Those “yes” votes must be greater than 50% of all the votes cast for Governor.

So, if you want something to pass, vote for someone on the ballot (write-ins don’t count) in the gubernatorial election.

And, if you want something to fail, you sure as hell better raise that bar a little higher by voting in the Governor’s race (again, write-ins don’t count).

I fully expect a TV station or two somewhere in the state will declare something having passed when it hasn’t crossed these two thresholds, but I’ll wait until election night to mock them for that.

Without further ado, here’s the breakdown.

Amendment 1 – Removing your right to privacy

Some people call Amendment 1 “The Abortion Amendment”, and if you just read the caption on the ballot, you might think you’re right.

But since the US Supreme Court ruled on Roe vs. Wade in 1973, the issue of government intervention in difficult health decisions been about privacy.

I’ve written about this extensively in the past.

The caption for Amendment 1 says:

Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion. The people retain the right through their elected state representatives and state senators to enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother.

But the idea of the right to privacy in health decisions, and abortion, which is a medical procedure, are inextricably linked.

That’s what the TNSCOTUS ruled in 2000.

So, to make a medical procedure potentially “illegal”, which is what the majority of the TN legislature wants, is to take away the privacy in medical decisions away from patients.

The married couple agrees...Vote No on 1

The married couple agrees
Vote No on 1

The Legislature can’t do this on their own…they need you, the voter, to eschew the additional privacy protections inherent in the Tennessee Constitution, so they can then further limit your choices on your medical decisions.

If you think this will stop at abortion, you’re sadly mistaken. The legislature could use this amendment to regulate any number of widely accepted medical procedures under the guise that they have effectively restricted privacy with this amendment.

Its ironic really. The political right consistently rails against government intervention in personal decisions…until it comes to medical decisions, then they don’t think you’re qualified to do it on your own.

If one were to be consistent, they would strike down this amendment with an overwhelming majority…because none of us want Ron Ramsey, or Brian Kelsey making medical decisions for us.

They’ve already proven time and time again they don’t have our best interests at heart.

I urge you to vote NO on Amendment 1.

Amendment 2 – Judicial Disco

Judicial retention (for Appellate and Supreme Court justices) has been a big topic in State politics for a while now. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s effort to remove TN SCOTUS judges in the August election was just the start of a fight that’s been boiling over since Ramsey took the top spot in the State Senate.

Amendment 2 seeks to clarify it all…and enshrine a system similar to the current system in the State Constitution. However, the differences have many folks up at arms.

Currently, a nominating commission makes recommendations to the Governor, who then selects from a paired down field of candidates. That Commission expired in 2013, and wasn’t renewed.

Under the amendment, there would be no mandated commission (though Haslam has said he approves of the commission), and the General Assembly would have veto power over the selection by the Governor. In a state where a simple majority can overturn the Governor already, that’s a lot of political power over the judiciary from the legislative branch.

Opponents of the amendment say to vote no, because the current system, without the added step of the legislature approving of the nominations works, and we shouldn’t bend to the legislature just because they scare the be-jesus out of us.

Supporters I’ve heard from don’t really seem to support the amendment, per se, but say its better than direct election of Appellate judges (which would be a disaster by any measure). They fear that could happen if the Constitutional Amendment isn’t passed.

Opponents counter that even the most radical on both sides of the aisle don’t want that, and bills seeking to make that the law of the land consistently fail in committee.

To be honest with you, I’m still torn. But as a person who: a. doesn’t take kindly to bullies, and b. is ready to take out my policy brass knuckles at the drop of a hat to beat down really dumb ideas from Nashville (there is an ample supply), I’m inclined to vote No.

When someone’s being a bully you don’t bend to them, you turn around and kick their ass so they’ll leave you alone. That’s what needs to happen here.

Amendment 3 – Tennessee Tax Dystopia

Unlike Amendment 2, Amendment 3 is simple. If you want your sales tax to start bumping up to 14%…vote for it.

If you don’t, vote against it.

Tennessee already has one of the highest sales tax rates in the nation.

The Legislature, with the help of the Haslam administration, has been cutting taxes on the wealthiest of the wealthy. As things get more expensive, and we keep underfunding every damn thing we have to fund…that revenue will have to be replaced somewhere…and the sales tax is the only place to go.

Sponsors of this Amendment, like Brian Kelsey of Germantown will say this saves the state from the tax hell of having an income tax…and by virtue, stops taxes from increasing.

But as anyone with half a brain in their head knows, the absence of a kind of tax doesn’t stop taxes in general from increasing. Come on dude…really?

Vote NO on Amendment 3.

Amendment 4 – Veteran’s Bingo “Gaming”

Amendment 4 is an effort to include Veteran’s organizations in the “games of chance” carveout that was enshrined in the lottery.

Currently, many not-for-profit organizations can hold fundraisers that involve games of chance (gambling, cakewalks, etc. but not bingo)…but Veteran’s groups can’t.

The reason goes back to a scandal in the 1980’s.

The amendment lays out some high hurdles for Veteran’s groups to be able to do this…and that’s actually my problem with the Constitutional amendment.

If the amendment just said the Constitution allows this type of organization to do this and the “how” may be regulated by the state, I’d probably be for it. But this amendment sets forth a specific policy prescription and safeguards, which, if they don’t work, will take years to change because they’ll require another constitutional amendment!

So while I certainly think Veteran’s groups do good work…and far too often they do work the state itself should be doing, I can’t support this amendment because it reads too much like a bill and not enough like a constitutional amendment…if that makes any sense.

So, I say vote No on Amendment 4.

So there ya go. Take it for what its worth. But most importantly, go vote.

Aug 19 2014

Slow your roll…

Posted by Steve Ross in elections

Just because he won, doesn't mean his seat is vacant

Just because he won, doesn’t mean his seat is vacant

With the election of State Senator Jim Kyle (D-Memphis) to the Chancery Court here in Shelby County, there will have to be a process to fill his State Senate seat.

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.

The State Party’s Prescription

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.

Reside versus Represent

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.

Click to enlarge Senate Dist 30 is bordered in white  Overlapping districts are in orange

Click to enlarge
Senate Dist 30 is bordered in white
Overlapping House Districts are in orange

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.

Party Rules

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

Aug 10 2014

Apologies and firing squads

Posted by Steve Ross in elections

Friendly fire isn't that friendly

Friendly fire isn’t that friendly

I was all wrapped up in pre-wedding festivities yesterday, so there’s a lot of stuff I didn’t get to react to.

Since my last post, Chairman Carson has apologized for his off the cuff remarks.

It takes strength to admit when you’ve made a mistake.

I applaud him for that.

Ready, shoot, aim

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.

Watching the Vote

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.

Reflections on 2012

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.

Critical Analysis

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.

Aug 09 2014

Groundhog Day for Shelby County Democrats

Posted by Steve Ross in elections
Bryan Carson talks to Fox13 about the night's losses

Bryan Carson talks to Fox13 about the night’s losses

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.

Crisis of Competence and Confidence

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.

Let’s see:

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.

Party Failures

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.

What’s being built?

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.

Election Coverage

A Déjà Vu Election: Cohen Breezes, GOP Repeats Countywide Romp of Four Years Ago, and Appellate Judges Hang On

Democratic Divide Widens in Election Results

Kyle Veazey On Politics: A day after, going deeper into Thursday’s results

Shelby County Democratic Party Looks To Rebuild Following Losses