Nov 30 2014

Populism alone won’t save Southern Democrats

Posted by Steve Ross in elections, National Politics, TNDP
Complete Devestation

Complete Devestation

Friday, the AP published an article pushing for more populism from Democratic candidates in Southern states to help revive the respective state party organizations.

I agree that a more populist message would help motivate Democratic voters, and possibly move some swing voters our way, but the notion that populism alone is the answer is moronic.

Because any messaging tactic one might bring to a campaign is worthless without the apparatus to effectively deliver that message. That’s where Democrats in the South, and plenty of other places, have been failing.

I constantly hear from Republicans to be ready to do battle with “Democratic Machine Politics”, but I’ve not seen much evidence of a machine at all in recent years. Certainly not on the local and state levels.

That’s where we’re getting destroyed. And the destruction will have long lasting effects on the politics and policies of individual states, and the federal government going forward.

But its not just Tennessee, its happening all over.

Here’s what they’re saying in Arizona about their state party structure.

“There’s got to be a serious autopsy. And I say autopsy because I think we’re dead at this point. The infrastructure is dead, the party structure is dead….

It’s not just money, we have a much bigger problem than that. I can’t blame anybody. I’m part of the problem, too.”

– Arizona House Minority Leader Rep. Chad Campbell

If this refrain sounds familiar, it should. I’ve been saying something similar to this since 2008.

I suggest you go and read the whole thing, because there’s a glimmer of hope in the statement from AZ House Minority Leader Chad Campbell…recognition.

Unlike Democratic leaders in Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and other deep south states, Campbell actually understands two critical problems:

  1. That the state political structure is dead.
  2. That he is at least somewhat responsible for killing it.

That kind of recognition is absent from far too many of the discussions being had around here.

But this post isn’t about blame…because that’s not productive. In fact, I have no interest in calling names or anything like that, because we’re all responsible on one level or another.

This post is about the transformative power of recognizing the problem.

The Arizona Democratic Party actually has a chance now…if only its leaders will act on the recognition of their State House Minority Leader.

We need our leaders, including school board members, County Commissioners, State House and Senate members, State Executive Committee members, and US Representatives, to recognize the role they play in contributing to the problem…and begin working on concrete actions to start building something…anything.

That means finding something for campaign teams to do once the election is over.

We can’t just build campaign teams for the election and then let all that talent get scattered to the wind once the cycle is over. We have to keep these folks in the fold, so all that time training and mentoring doesn’t go to waste.

We have to build a bench, and keep that bench game ready.

But we don’t do that…ever. We fight amongst ourselves about petty party issues, and pigeon-hole people as one faction or another (that we have decided we don’t like) and let that get in the way of building. Its stupid.

Its funny to me that Democrats are the Party that professes to stand up for the little guy, when we consistently squander the “little guy” campaign talent as soon as the election cycle is over.

Then, two years later, we come calling on these folks, hoping they’re still around to help us…and more often than not, they have done what any self-respecting person would do…they’ve moved on.

Republicans don’t do that. They keep their people busy. And while some might say they have more money than we do…part of that is because they don’t ever stop campaigning. They keep their army busy fundraising, advocating, and recruiting.

We don’t, and that’s what’s killing us.

I’ve been saying the same thing for more than six years now, and I don’t care if you’re tired of hearing it. No one has really, effectively put anything in motion for any period of time because we spend so much time second-guessing ourselves into inaction, and ultimately, failure.

Until we decide to get over ourselves, and stop looking around the corner for the next internal boogeyman, we’ll never be able to take on the real villain that’s right in front of us…and has taken over.

Nov 29 2014

The Comedy and Tragedy of James Harvey’s Mayoral Aspirations

Posted by Steve Ross in City of Memphis, elections

Its more of a tragedy than a comedy

This is more of a tragedy than a comedy

In the blur of pre-Thanksgiving preparations, and the shadow of the Ferguson Grand Jury decision, a process that even Justice Scalia thinks was nuts, comes this article on the “non-traditional” campaign of former County Commissioner, James Harvey for Mayor of the City of Memphis.

Now, Harvey’s illustrious eight years on the County Commission are remarkable, only in that he was never seriously challenged…which says something about the sad state of affairs in politics in Shelby County.

The most notable item about his time on the Commission is his unique ability to begin speaking in favor of an issue, and by the end of his external monologue, have talked himself out of his own position, which doesn’t say anything about his ability to see both sides of an issue…rather, it speaks to just how few convictions he has on anything.

Veasey’s article frames Harvey as conducting the beginnings of a non-traditional campaign, working independent of money, to win the hearts and minds of Memphians a full ten months before the election…and at least five months before the campaign begins in earnest.

Now, if you’re one of those disappointed in the leadership at City Hall, and there’s a growing group of people that feel that way, you might be interested in looking to something fresh and new. And while that instinct may not be misplaced, any faith in Harvey’s ability to turn the City around is absolutely misplaced unless you think he can do that with his ample supply botched platitudes and mixed metaphors.

And while there’s no doubt that money alone doesn’t buy Mayorships, the fact that Harvey has raised less than 10k, nearly a year after announcing his candidacy, says something about his support citywide…that there isn’t any.

This fact should be well understood by looking at previous efforts to get elected to something…anything by Harvey.

In 2011, he ran for Mayor against Wharton and Edmund Ford Sr. Harvey managed to eek out just over 2000 votes in the effort, putting him in 3rd place behind Wharton’s 48.6k and Ford’s nearly 21k.

In the only other race that Harvey has faced an opponent and won, the 2006 Primary Election for County Commission, Harvey won just over 4700 votes, for 41% of the vote. Hardly a mandate.

But what’s most comical is that anyone would think of Harvey as a contender in a race against a sitting Mayor, who has a proven record of fielding a vigorous campaign, and a growing list of capable candidates seeking to unseat that Mayor…of which, Harvey is far from being in the top tier.

So while its understandable that…as we get closer to the October election, there should be a discussion of the declared candidates, the comedy and tragedy of it all is that Harvey is even mentioned as viable. He’s not.

If you’re one of those who feel Memphis needs new leadership, pinning your hopes on James Harvey is an exercise in futility.

Look elsewhere…anywhere else.

There will be more viable candidates emerge as we get closer to the filing deadline.

As for Harvey, I’m glad the CA got this fluff piece out of the way when no one was really paying attention. Hopefully they’ll decide to ignore him along with the crackpots and maroons who will inevitably file to run.

We need to have a real discussion, not distractions, about the top spot at City Hall…and no amount of framing will place Harvey at the big boys table in that discussion.

Nov 24 2014

The Steve Ross Show – Episode 2

Episode 2 of the Steve Ross Show is up and ready for your viewing pleasure.

You can watch it below or by clicking here.

This episode includes an interview with Rebecca Terrell, the Executive Director of Choices – The Memphis Center for Reproductive Health.

Rebecca and I talk about the state of reproductive healthcare in Tennessee in the wake of the Amendment 1 constitutional amendment.

I also take some time to touch on the President’s Executive Order on immigration, and the reaction to it, changes in Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration, and the race for TNDP Chair.

For ‘My Take’ I talk about the attempt to suppress union organizing at the Chattanooga VW plant, and the company’s decision to work with the unions in the wake of that interference.

Hope you enjoy the show!

Nov 17 2014

The Steve Ross Show – Episode 1

It took a week of work, from the first concept, to the interview, to the writing, the hours of editing and trying to remember how to do all the things I haven’t been doing for the better part of 2 years now, but the very first episode of a video blog I produced is now up and online.

You can watch it below or by clicking here.

I’m really proud of the Freshman effort on this. Its not perfect, and I know for sure there are things I want to change for future episodes, but considering this wasn’t even something I was considering ever doing just 10 days ago, I feel pretty good about it.

This episode includes an interview with former Shelby County Commissioner and U of M Law Professor, Steve Mulroy. I talked to him about the marriage equality decision handed down by the 6th Circuit Court of appeals just over a week ago, as well as issues related to the Federal bench.

I also touched on some of the top stories in national and statewide politics, as well as the just passed mid-term elections.

So, I hope you like it.

Special thanks to Steve Mulroy for being the first guest.

Also, thanks to comedian and progressive talker Matthew Filipowicz for inspiring me to throw myself headlong into the project. I got to meet Matthew when he was in town two weeks ago.

I also want to thank my beautiful bride Ellyn for putting up with my OCD and self-doubt while I was putting this thing together…and giving me some very good advice while I was putting the finishing touches on it.

So, there ya go. Hope you enjoy it!

Nov 05 2014

The Day After – 2014 Edition

Posted by Steve Ross in elections, State Politics

You could see this as utter devastation. Or you can see it as a clean slate to start re-building something better.

You could see this as utter devastation. Or you can see it as a clean slate to start re-building something better.

Its been six years since the first bomb dropped on Democrats in Tennessee.

The 2008 election saw the State House and Senate fall to GOP control for the first time since Reconstruction. And while full GOP control may have been delayed for two years, thanks to some crafty behind the scenes maneuvering, it was only a brief delay in the total control that would come two years later.

That doesn’t make what happened last night any easier, but it does give us the opportunity to make some decisions about the future of the Democratic Party. And while the wounds may seem too fresh, and many may feel its too soon…this has been coming for six years now. No one should be surprised.

Where do we go from here?

I’ve waxed eloquent several times in this space about things the party, and progressives either in or outside the party, can do to try and turn things around. Privately, these thoughts have received some attention, but I’ve never seen any real action on them…and that inaction has led me to take a step back from some of the statewide issues, in favor of more local issues…that included a run for County Commission in 2012, among other things.

From my observations over the past six years, I’ve come to the conclusion that Democrats in Tennessee…and the south generally, are confronted with a two front battle: One is against a robust, well funded and well organized ideological opponent, the other a battle over the internal culture of the party, and the methods by which we might find a way to rebuild after these consecutive apocalypses.

It is the second front, not the first, that is the most challenging…but the lesson can’t be any more clear than it is now…three cycles after the initial fall: Our bi-annual pattern of last second ‘hail-mary’ passes can only be successful if the score is close in the first place.

For the past three cycles, it not only hasn’t been, but we’ve been sacked behind the line of scrimmage as the clock ran out.

Recognition

A lot of good people lost yesterday. One loss that I take personally is Gloria Johnson from Knoxville.

Gloria came just 200 votes shy of a second term according to the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office.

She’s a true fighter, who deserved a second term, in my humble opinion. And while we all knew she was against long odds, that didn’t stop her. She fought all the way to the finish. Unfortunately, she came up short.

My fear, in her loss, is that some will take it as proof that a fighter who stands tall for her beliefs can’t win in Tennessee. The fact is, by any measure she knew what she was up against and did it anyway.

GOP hack, Tom Leatherwood id’d her back in January of this year as one of the GOP’s top targets…and boy did they target her. The entire TNGOP mobilized against her.

I won’t speak for her but Gloria knew she might not have the kind of support a candidate in her position needs to win from some state Democratic groups…though I should note, The House Democratic Caucus, and several Democratic organizations in her area stood with her….even if it was at the very last second.

What’s most annoying is, there is no indication from available disclosures that the State Party was involved in her campaign in any measurable way. In fact, it appears she had to use a third party vendor, rather than the Democratic Party’s own tools to help manage her campaign…which, if true, is a travesty.

I’ll have to wait and see on the final disclosures that will come out later if they were involved…but considering the target on her back, it should have been ‘all hands on deck’ from the get-go.

The last second money doesn’t make it look like her fellow Democrats had her back. And if they did, they didn’t have it soon enough.

More Recognition

The married couple agrees...Vote No on 1

The married couple agrees…Vote No on 1

Another group…or collection of groups I think is worth mentioning is the No on 1 campaign.

While they too may not have been successful at beating back the intrusion of state legislators into the medical decisions of women (and possibly men at some point), they outperformed all the other Constitutional Amendments on the ballot, keeping the margins close enough to keep hope alive well into the evening.

I’ve seen some comments on social media that have been less than flattering, I think the organizers of No on 1 should leave those comments where they are, and take solace in the fact that they ran a much better race than any other statewide progressive issue, or candidate.

The messaging was smart and efficient. The delivery was done well. The ground game, at least here in Shelby County, seemed to be well organized and vibrant.

But what no one could have planned for is the low turnout on our side of the ledger. 40,000 fewer voters in Shelby County, and 20,000 fewer in Davidson (as compared to 2010), most likely due to weakness at the top of the Democratic ticket hampered the No on 1 cause.

Congratulations and Thank You’s

Big congrats to my friend Lee Harris as he embarks on his first term as my State Senator. There are only five of you in the Caucus, so I expect you to be a big part in helping guide us out of the wilderness.

Congrats also to Sara Kyle, as she won her bid to complete the term of her husband…and former Minority leader.

Congrats to the members of the Shelby County House Democratic Caucus, but especially those who had contested elections: Larry Miller, Barbara Cooper, Raumesh Akbari, and G.A. Hardaway.

A special thanks to Dwayne Thompson for fighting the good fight in House Dist. 96.

A final thought

RestrEntrepreneur, and one time Democratic candidate for Shelby County Commission, Taylor Berger has been taking to his blog as of late to talk about the state of the Democratic Party in Shelby Co.

Even if you disagree with everything he has to say, we should welcome him into the fold. I’ve only met him once but he seems to be a smart guy with a lot of energy, and we need that.

His most recent post asks the question: “Will Democrats leave Tennessee after the wave of red that just washed across the state?”

Here’s my answer. You don’t lose until you quit. If you don’t quit, you might not win, but you don’t lose.

That’s something all Democrats across the South (hell, the whole damn country for that matter) ought to keep in mind as we lick our wounds for a bit before we jump back in the fray.

Buck up campers…we’ve got nowhere to go but up from here.