Apr 29 2009

TNDP.org Membership Update

Posted by Steve Ross in TNDP

Here are the TNDP.org membership stats for this week…

Total Members – 617
Davidson – 136 – 22%
Knox – 82 – 13%
Shelby – 43 – 7%
Rutherford – 30 – 5%
Hamilton – 24 – 4%

Shelby Co. people, you’re really disappointing me. Since my last update TNDP.org has added 85 members, 8 of which are from Shelby Co. I know we have more people than that. Heck, the SCDP Executive Committee is some 83 members! Further, where are all our state Executive Committee members? So far, I only see two.

Sign up and show your support! Just takes a second, and I promise it won’t hurt a bit!

Apr 29 2009


Posted by Steve Ross in City of Memphis, National Politics, snark
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The past week has been a cornucopia of news stories, locally, statewide, and nationally. Here’s a short rundown…

Last Tuesday, Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton announced he was exploring a run of the 9th District seat currently held by Steve Cohen. The poll released last night (full results here) has been derided by local blogger ThaMATT who, it seems, has no understanding of how polling works. We’re a long way off from the primary. With these two, anything could happen. Herenton could get indicted, Cohen could show his personal knowledge of movies from the 80’s. Anything’s possible.

Yesterday also brought us the Snarlin’ Arlen Specter switch. I got 10 calls and 20 emails in a 5-minute period after this broke. I suppose I’m ought to be excited about this, but I’m not. Arlen is just trying to keep his seat, something politicians do no matter how long they’ve been in, and realizes the political calculus that’s in front of him…he can win a general, but not a primary. Specter’s Progressive Punch score may put him at the top of the heap among the Republicans, but when you’re to the right of Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson, I have to hold my nose to call you a Democrat. While it may be nice to have a possible filibuster proof majority in the Senate once Franken is seated, my lack of enthusiasm on this development is right up there with writing a check to the Treasury in the midst of a budget surpluss. Further, this stops the party from running a stronger Democratic voice in that race, which means we gave up a long term opportunity for a short term gain. Awesome.

Today marks Obama’s 100th day in office. I find benchmarks like this tiresome, but apparently they’re going to play along. All day the gas bags will be talking about all that has, hasn’t and won’t materialize in his first term, as if the first 100 days are a coffin that somehow encompasses everything that is possible for the next 1361 days. Blech. Save it folks. You’re wasting air I might need later.

Finally, I just want to know who wrote this headline. Whoever it is over there at the CA is entitled to a free drink at their leisure. Despite the unfortunate nature of the story, the headline made me giggle and holler.

All right folks, Let’s be careful out there.

Apr 26 2009

DFA Training Memphis and Beyond

Posted by Steve Ross in Uncategorized

I just finished training with Democracy for America here in Memphis. It was an awesome experience.

I encourage everyone, if you want to work or volunteer on a campaign, or even if you’re just a political junkie like me to go to the training. The insight itself is instructive. A lot of those things that you bitch about that politicians do, are explained in these trainings (through examples), even though that’s not the focus. In fact, there’s as much information to be learned about why people do what they do from this training than I can explain in my current mushy headed state.

It was awesome.

I want to remind readers that training in similar subjects will be offered at the TNDP Summit in Monteagle this coming weekend.

Guys, this has been one of the most satisfying weekends in this political junkie’s recent memory. I thank Brad Watkins for bringing them back to the area.

There were attendees from Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and even Texas at this training. It’s worth the drive from Texas folks, you missed out!

The next DFA trainings in the area are Shreveport, LA and Birmingham, AL in June. Go to Democracy for America for more information.

Apr 24 2009

What Happens When the Soldiers Still Want to Fight the War?

Posted by Steve Ross in TNDP

This is the news report that broke yesterday regarding the “brokered” deal between several of the state’s elected officials and the TNDP Chair, Chip Forrester. Some have claimed that this makes Forrester a figurehead. In yesterday’s conference call, Forrester indicated that the arrangement is not substantially different from last year’s situation. The difference is that now the party is more focused than last year on grass roots organizing. I’m still waiting on a real live press release detailing the arrangement before I pass judgment.

Really, it’s kind of interesting. I had a post ready that detailed the good things that have come, or are coming from the TNDP leadership in the past 3 months. This revelation (I had heard there was a “truce” coming, this was not what I was expecting, nor what I would call a “truce”) kind of threw a monkey wrench into that post. Now that I’ve had time to sleep on it, I think we should acknowledge the positive steps and the challenges going forward, so here goes. First with the pluses:

1. Communications – This is simple, in 3 months I’ve received more press releases, emails and information from the TNDP that I had in the previous 4 years. Aside from losing, that was one of the biggest complaints coming into the Chair’s election. I’m glad this is fixed.

2. Web Site – The new web site is more than I expected. The ability of people to organize themselves online, to form groups, to form alliances despite living on opposite sides of the state, is a pretty big damn deal. This thing is only going to evolve more as time goes on.

3. Training – The upcoming Summit at Monteagle shows a dedication to training future ground troops to support the party and candidates. This is a HUGE deal for Tennessee. We need more people that are trained volunteers. Further, programs like this allow people to take the knowledge back home with them, and train up even more people. There’s a viral element to it that, if harnessed correctly, can be awesome.

4. Access – Forrester is the first chair to recognize that progressive bloggers can be your best friend, your worst enemy, and sometimes both. The outreach to people all over the state, keeping us informed when he can, and treating us as stakeholders in the process, is potentially transformational. We’re an unwieldy group, to be sure, but God knows that we’re not going away any time soon. Working with us is far better than ignoring us. He’s taken more steps in that direction than any member of the Tennessee Democratic establishment, ever.

Of course, not everything has been a bed of roses. There have been some mistakes, errors of omission, and a few outfight screw ups.

1. Messaging – Newscoma has a good post up about this. The TNDP hasn’t managed the news cycle very well. Yesterday’s response to the AP report referenced above is a prime example. This particular instance may have more to do with the actual terms of the agreement, but the silence until 4:30 PM yesterday was deafening. Currently the TNDP is looking for a Communications Director. The addition of someone whose sole responsibility is dealing with the media/bloggers/messaging will make it more likely that these uncomfortable silences happen less. Hopefully, someone will be in place soon.

2. Fundraising – I think just about everyone, with the possible exception of Norm Coleman and Al Franken, who are still engaged in a court battle for the MN-Sen. race, has seen a great deal of weakness in fundraising this year. It’s hard to get people to give money when they’re worried about their economic future. That said, there haven’t been that many public requests for funds from the Chair. Sure, he’s making phone calls to donors, but one of the things that the DNC and the Obama campaign mastered was the ask. Every single communication involved an ask, and it worked. This may not bring in big lump sums of money, but if you don’t ask, you don’t get. Something is better than nothing.

3. Owning it – From achievements and enhancements to foul ups and foibles, one of the most irritating things that the TNDP has been struggling with is publicly owning all of it. The mistakes need to be acknowledged publicly and promptly so that the news cycle moves beyond them more quickly. The achievements need to be included, in some way, in every official communication to the public. This reinforces the good and minimizes the bad, while not totally dismissing either. It’s putting your best foot forward, even when a mistake is made, to own everything you do. Lots of folks think that only talking about the good stuff is the way to improve your image. I believe that if you own all of everything you do out in public, you do a lot more to improve both the public perception, and the credibility of your reports.

There are a lot of good things that can happen with all this. Building a grass roots network is an investment in Democratic candidates that will pay off not only tomorrow, but also 20 years from now. If successful, these people can be an invaluable resource in the run up to next year’s election. On the down side, the folks at the TNDP are sorely understaffed, due in large part to the financial position that the party was in after last year’s election and fundraising challenges that have been a reality for both parties over the past few months. Hopefully the plan that emerged yesterday will allow the TNDP to focus on the grass roots and have to worry less about raising scads of cash.

In the end, I know there are a lot of people who feel put off after three months, but think about the volunteers who have been living it. They still get up every morning and bust their butts, regardless of what the detractors say. I understand that the pissing contest directed at the chair has been disheartening, but nobody said politics was pretty. I see why this feels like surrender to some, but are we going to win back the House with one faction working to undermine the other? Think of the alternative. I don’t want to live through 20 years of Republican rule of the legislature, that’s for sure. It may still happen, but we have to do everything in our power to prevent it.

Ultimately, that’s all I can think about right now.

So if the War of the Roses is over, let’s stop worrying about who won and get to work. 2010 is right around the corner. We don’t have any time to waste.

Apr 23 2009

Why I’m Against Consolidation

Posted by Steve Ross in City of Memphis, Shelby County

In the past several years I’ve been an advocate for Consolidation. I’ve written several posts in support of the subject. Today I’m changing my tune. Today, I come out against consolidation and all it stands for.

What does consolidation even mean? The definition of Consolidation is combine (a number of things) into a single more effective or coherent whole. That’s a nice idea, but for the past almost 50 years consolidation here in Shelby Co. has represented to many an exercise that takes a County government, and a City Government, and smushes them together like two cans of different colored Play-doh. Some have characterized consolidation as a marriage of the blind and the deaf, unable to communicate or respond to each other, or worse, as creating a man made Platypus. None of those things sound like something I’m interested in. Consolidation SOUNDS LIKE taking two under-representative bodies and making them one SUPER UNDER-REPRESENTATIVE body. That’s something that I just cannot support.

Shelby Co. has is 724 sq. mi. and a population density of 1189/sq. mi. The County Commission has 5 Districts, 4 of which are served by 3 people, you still following me, for a total of 1 council member for every 69,000 people. That’s less representative than the average State House seat in Shelby Co. by 13,000 people.

Memphis is even worse. We have 7 Districts, and 2 “At Large” half city districts. At 279 sq. mi. we’re just 37% of the total land mass of Shelby Co., but have a population density of 2327/sq. mi.. Representation on our council is worse than in the county. That’s 1 district member for every 93,000 people. The “At Large” is even worse than that, ranging somewhere around 1 member for every 112,000 people. In all, any one district may be represented by 4 people, but only has one person really “responsible” for the area, and 3 others that are really responsible for the interests of their half of the city. You can “math this out” to look better than it is, but even at 1 per 83,800, you would still find yourself with each City Council member representing 27,000 more people than our State House members.

In pointing out the reality of our under-representation on both the County and City governments, I don’t mean to besmirch the intentions or credibility of any of the members, but to point out the representational reality that the two largest “municipal” governments in Tennessee are broken. The notion of marrying these two under-representative bodies into one SUPER UNDER-REPRESENTATIVE government is distasteful to just about everyone.

I’m against that…I’m against Consolidation.

I’m not against a completely revamped, and more representative Metro Government. I actually like the idea, as long as it’s not set up to solidify the power bases or any one group or political structure. I like the idea of a Metro Government that is SUPER representative. Davidson Metro is a good example of this.

Davidson Metro is 502 sq. mi. with a population density of 1243/sq. mi.. It has 35 Council Districts, 5 “At Large” positions and a Vice-Mayor that oversees the body. Each district position serves approx. 18,000 people. The “At Large” positions are simple, vote for 5 and the top vote getters win. Vice-Mayor is a Metro wide race that everyone votes for, just like the Mayor. Everyone is voted into a 4-year term, and the election is held in an “off year” to allow for citizens to actually be able to focus on the election.

That doesn’t sound bad to me.

Achieving a representational ratio equal to that of Davidson Co. would mean 50 council districts. That doesn’t seem manageable. 35 seems more manageable, and would net just over 2 council seats for every State House District. I like the “At Large” positions as well, for several reasons; 1. It gives people who have served on the council an opportunity to continue to serve after they have been “Term Limited” out of their local districts. 2. It allows for institutional memory to survive huge turnovers of the council. 3. It is a good platform to build leaders that could someday serve in an executive position. “Leaders aren’t born, they’re raised”, in order for a community to get the kind of leadership they want, they have to “raise” those leaders and show them what leadership looks like in their community.

Whether or not something like this emerges in the most recent push for a Metro government is yet to be seen. County Mayor Wharton is currently on a listening tour to hear resident’s concerns and questions. At the beginning of the month he visited a group in Cordova. More are planned over the coming months.

In order for any real push for a Metro government to begin in earnest, the Memphis City Council and Shelby Co. Commission have to adopt a resolution to create a Charter Commission comprised of members appointed by both bodies. The Charter Commission would then craft a charter to be put before the voters of both governments. Both City and County residents must approve the measure for it to take effect.

The makeup of the potential “Charter Commission” is really important. Appointing the usual suspects is going to be a non-starter. Both the City Council and County Commission need to look outside themselves, and the revolving door of people appointed to public boards and commissions to ensure that a wealth of ideas and experience is represented on the Commission. Further, both legislative bodies in Shelby Co. need to distance themselves from the process to ensure that no charges of “power consolidation” can be levied against them.

Once the Charter Commission is empanelled there are a lot of issues to deal with, in addition to the more basic problem of actually writing the Charter. Here are a few ideas that I support:

– Council districts that respect traditional neighborhoods/areas and are more representative than current or future State House Districts, along with a methodology to address population growth/contraction in the area.

– Direct oversight and supervision of any county executive that would emerge from the charter process.

– Sensible and comprehensive ethics rules that are easy for laymen to understand.

– Recall authority and citizen driven ballot initiatives.

– A straightforward line of succession for the executive, and the replacement of resigning council members.

– Easy and clear transparency of all government agencies, including the council, for citizen oversight.

Of course, there are all kinds of additional issues that will arise in the process. The key is that the process is open, transparent, and the result of a conversation with constituents, rather than trying to force a solution down the throats of voters, which is one of the greatest fears of most county residents. Having a direct say, and knowing what the eventual governing body will look like may go a long way to addressing those concerns and quelling those fears.

This whole discussion needs to be focused on building something new. Even though past discussions of creating a Metro government have largely been focused on making something new, simply using the word, “consolidation” illicits feelings of losing our already tenuous grasp on local control. No one is going to support that.

At the end of the day, there needs to be a good faith effort to address the concerns of County and City residents, and a well organized campaign to educate the public on the eventual proposal, both as it is being crafted, and once it emerges from the Charter Commission. Memphis Tomorrow, an organization whose mission is …to bring top business leaders together with government and civic leaders to foster economic prosperity for all who live in our community. has started a site dedicated to the discussion of building a Metro government in Shelby Co. called Reinvent Government. While this is a step in the right direction to foster engagement in the community, any effective effort will have to be supported by people who have a history of being arbiters of good faith, both in their neighborhoods, and the county at large. A “grass tops” push by politicians and business leaders alone will not do.

The conversation has started. The landscape of any proposed charter change, and the comprehensiveness of the eventual proposal largely depends on how engaged and involved people throughout Shelby Co. choose to be. If the people don’t get involved, we’ll keep getting what we’ve been getting and fighting the same old fights that have hamstrung our community for decades. If we do get involved, we might just end up with something pretty special, a government that we helped create, that is directly responsible to us, and that holds power at the will of a diverse, but unified group of people.

Yes, I’m against Consolidation. I’m against taking a duck and a beaver and putting them together to try and make a platypus, but I’m not against starting from scratch. Wiping away the power structures that have hamstrung our community, and building new systems from the ground up, to serve the will of the people. That sounds like a Revolution to me. A revolution is something sorely needed in Shelby Co.