Apr 29 2011

It’s All About the Money

Posted by Steve Ross in State Politics

Tiger Dud

Sometimes I wonder what drives people. Other times I wonder how they have any wheels at all. But most times, that driving force is very apparent through the actions of a person or group, and more often than not, their true motivation shines through.

This morning the Tennessee Democratic Party is hosting a Unity Breakfast in Nashville. Typical fundraising affair, big name speaker, in this case, Vice-President Gore, nice restaurant. I wouldn’t say it’s no big deal, but I also wouldn’t say its something that, if I were the TNGOP, I would attack. Doing so might inadvertently advertise the event.

But that’s exactly what the TNGOP did in this radio ad. I’m sure they used Charlie Sheen’s voice with permission, and I’d be interested to know how much that cost them, or will cost them after Mr. Sheen files suit.

Anyway, my point is, the TNGOP attacking a fundraiser is just endemic of their whole worldview. I’m sure in some room somebody has this complex calculation involving dry beans, Pi, and a few other constants that tells them what they believe is the total amount of campaign dollars in the universe. Subtract the salaries and budgets of all the other organizations out there and it shows just how much campaign cash Tennessee has. Armed with this knowledge, the TNGOP certainly calculated that at $250 a head the TNDP would most certainly gain a competitive advantage, particularly considering the big name Oscar winner on the bill. Considering the dire nature of their flat earth funding philosophy, and the huge potential for these mythically limited funds to move in the wrong direction, the TNGOP had to strike back with a washed up hack.

Because it really is all about the money and nothing else and there’s plenty of evidence to prove it. From the lavish $25,000 a head “shakedown at the Governor’s mansion, to the bill promoting the massive influx of corporate campaign donations, that’s the real focus of the TNGOP, getting the money so no one else can.

Way to go guys, and thanks for the cross promotion. In the mean time, I’ve forwarded the audio of your radio ad to Sheen’s Business Agent.

Happy litigation!

Jan 08 2011

TNDP Chair Election – Moving Forward

Posted by Steve Ross in TNDP

Ed Note: Earlier this morning Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords – AZ and as many as twelve others were shot in front of a Safeway grocery store in Tuscon. As of this writing at least five have died as a result of their injuries. The status of Rep. Giffords is unknown. Giffords regularly held public events in places such as this. This is a very sad day for our country. Please keep the families of all the victims in your thoughts and prayers.

Congratulations to Chip Forrester on his re-election to Chair the Tennessee Democratic Party.

As I noted yesterday, we have a lot of work ahead of us. In order to do this work we have to make a conscious decision as Democrats to come together and commit ourselves to the ideas we hold dear, not just give lip service to them. No one can make this decision for us. It is a personal decision that we, as individuals, must make for the good of the party, regardless of who the Chair is.

It is my sincere hope that Wade Munday and Matt Kuhn, who spent considerable time and resources running for this position will continue to commit themselves to the Democratic cause despite the outcome of the election. Their leadership, in this regard, will be a signal to their supporters that despite a sometimes contentious cycle there is a place for all of us in and around the party. We need their leadership to support the actions of all the Democratic institutions that support our candidates. I look forward to their future involvement in the Party.

Get Involved

There are lots of ways that you, dear reader, can get involved with your state party. First, sign up for an account on the TNDP website. This will allow you to connect with Democrats from all over the state. Further, there are many groups, from issue groups to local and regional groups that use the site to help promote their events. You can even use your Facebook or Google login to do it.

If you’re not into the social media aspect, you can still sign up for emails from the party. The form is on the right of just about every page on the site.

Giving money is a good way to help the party help local parties and candidates. The party spends a good deal of money on candidate support tools. You can either give a one time donation, or a monthly recurring donation.

Finally, if you really want to know what’s going on, get in touch with your Executive Committee Members. These folks help guide the party and can be a valuable resource as you become more involved.

Get Local

As a party, we have a lot of work to do. Later this year our County Parties will begin their reorganization. In order to ensure these party organs are functioning properly to support local, state, and federal candidates we must commit ourselves to increase our involvement in them. The first step is understanding the reorganization process in your county. The TNDP website has contact information and county bylaws for most county parties. Familiarizing yourself with these bylaws is the best way to prepare yourself if you intend to run for a position on your County Party Executive Committee.

Some county parties are more open than others. Some are more involved than others. You need not be a member of an Executive Committee to be involved in the party process. I’ve never served on the SCDP Executive Committee, though I do either attend meetings or speak to members about the meetings just to keep up with what’s going on. Most parties meet monthly, so it’s not like there’s a huge time commitment associated with keeping up. It will also help you find ways to use your talents in the service of the party and candidates.

Even if you don’t have the time to dedicate to your local party, you can still give your next most valuable resource…money. Most county parties don’t have much money. In fact, time is the greatest resource most of them bring to the table. That said, giving a recurring donation of $10/mo. may not seem like that much to you, but to many parties it can be a game changer especially it it’s multiplied by 20 or 30 people giving at that level. The easiest way to do this is through Act Blue, though I suspect many county parties may not be set up with them. Setup is easy, and if County chairs understood there was money in it for them, I’m sure they would jump at the opportunity.

Get it Going

You can do all the things I mentioned and still feel like you want to do more. Great! The opportunities are really only limited by your imagination. Host a block party, or just a party that serves as a fundraiser for one of the groups mentioned above or another Democratic group. Get out and register voters. Voter registration forms are available here. Heck, you can just talk to your friends about issues impacting your community and take that conversation back to one of your Democratic elected officials or Executive Committee members. The opportunities are endless.

At the end of the day its on us, the folks who call ourselves Democrats, to build a better party. Democratic institutions from the Federal level right down to the local level depend on us. We can’t wait for them to magically find us. If we want to build a better Democratic Party here in Tennessee, we have to take the first step.

Let’s do it.

Jan 07 2011

T-Minus 1 Day and Counting

Posted by Steve Ross in TNDP

The Race for Chair of TNDP is Nearly Over. Once it is, it’s time to work

This past week has been crazy. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think there’s ever been an election for Chair in recent history that’s generated this kind of buzz. Of course, we wouldn’t know because as Newscoma points out the history of the TNDP is largely unwritten.

I’ve been struggling to write something about this all week. For a whole host of reasons, including my work schedule, I just haven’t been able to commit words to blog. The volume of information and opinion has simply been too much too fast for me to process, along with all the other things I have going on. That said, I do have some pretty strong opinions about what’s what and who’s who in this whole thing.

First, it should be noted that all the problems with Democratic institutions in Tennessee don’t fall on the shoulders of one man, or one organization. The TNDP is a large cog in a machine of Democratic institutions that include the State Executive Committee, College Democrats, Young Democrats, County Parties, House and Senate Caucus Organizations, Candidates and more. From where I’m sitting, the historic losses we saw in November, and the loss of our majority in 2008, don’t rest on any one of these institutions. They all had a hand in failure. Singling one out is unfair.

I hope I made this clear back in November when I analyzed the list of accomplishments current Chair, Chip Forrester released in announcing his candidacy. As I noted in that post, I think there are some things Forrester has done well, and others that need improvement. The assertion by some that another Chair may have done better is neither constructive nor relevant. You play with the team you have and work for the best result.

Role Definition

The Chair of the TNDP is a political position not an ideological one. The chair cannot enforce ideological purity on the rest of the institutions in the chain. The negative reaction would be swift and politically deadly. It is the responsibility of all the institutions I listed above to be a reflection of and a support system for elected officials, who ultimately are the ones who will be helped or hurt at the ballot box by the image these institutions reflect. In Tennessee, the differences of what a Democrat looks like are as varied as the distance between Shelby and Sullivan County is long.

So while the role of Chair has a great deal of influence in the planning and execution of campaigns, from my perspective the job requirements are more of a technocrat, able to navigate the minefield of Democratic institutions and advocates rather than aspiring rock star. The Chair must speak for the party as a whole at the exclusion of themselves to ensure they don’t accidentally draw attention away from the very issue they seek to highlight. The Chair must have the trust of enough of all these institutions that he or she can and will provide the necessary tools for success. The Chair must be able to shepherd donors, volunteers and busybodies, like myself, in a way that puts them to good use for the ultimate good of the party.

Each of the candidates possess some of these qualities, but none have all of them. Honestly, I don’t think anyone does.

Taking this into account, I have no particular preference as to whom holds the seat over the next two years.

Waiting for a Saviour

We have to stop waiting for a savior. How much would we now know of Jesus were it not for his apostles? His works may have been lost in history had it not been for the work of these apostles to chronicle His life, as well as all the devotees who have followed since.

In order for the Tennessee Democratic Party to find its way out of the wilderness, we have to be those apostles. We have to work with the institutions in place to support them and sometimes guide them. Neither the institutions, nor the individuals alone can be our saviour. Nor should we want them to be. The analogy breaks down at this point because no one in our party is “ordained by God” to lead or follow. It is all our responsibility to do both, in the roles we find ourselves.

None of the candidates for Chair can “save” the party alone, but we can all save it together.

Grease the Wheels

In the end, there are 72 people who have the final say. 66 of them are elected by us, the people of the Tennessee Democratic Party. The other 6 represent people we, either through the ballot box or through associated institutions, have selected to ensure some kind of continuity in the machine. The rest of us are the oil, the fuel, and other necessary fluids that ensure the machine functions properly.

Once this process is over, if any of us, including the two candidates who will not be elected Chair, remove ourselves from the system, a part of that machine will break down. That breakdown is not the fault of the part, it is the fault of the support system for that part.

Right now, every warning light on our machine is on. Every system needs fluid. The parts are suffering from this lack of fluid. It is our responsibility to literally “grease the wheels” with our time, money and dedication to repair the damage brought by a litany of system failures too long to list.

The most important thing to remember is that, because of the way our machine is built, if one system rejects your fluid, or seems too broken to benefit, there are a whole host of others that can benefit from what you bring to the machine. Sometimes it’s hard to do this. Sometimes we feel discouraged. But in the end, removing ourselves from the process ultimately does more damage…like removing removing oil from a running car.

Fixing the Fractures

The past several years have exposed fractures in our party. These fractures have led to serious failures in our ability to elected and maintain Democratic officials and institutions. It didn’t happen overnight. It wasn’t done in an instant like a car wreck. This happened over years, and it will take years to repair.

The first step in repairing these fractures begins the moment a new Chair is elected. Whomever receives the trust of the majority of our representatives on the Executive Committee must receive the guidance and support of the party faithful and its institutions as a whole. The fastest road to unity rests not on the actions of one person seeking to create it, but on the attitude of the whole seeking to maintain it.

None of the candidates can bring us together alone. We have to strive to do it together.

That’s my wish, that we will strive to do this together, overcome the odds, and build something great throughout the entirety of the machine and all the parts that are “Tennessee Democrats”. Going forward, I hope we will. But it’s not up to the one person elected tomorrow to do it alone. Unity requires the dedication and balance of both sides of the equation. It is my hope that after tomorrow, the hard work required to balance that equation will begin again, for the good of the party, and the party faithful.

Jan 05 2011

A Message From a Former President of the U of M College Democrats

Posted by Steve Ross in TNDP

Ed. Note: At this point I’m not endorsing anyone for TNDP chair. However, the email that was released earlier today by Chairman Forrester regarding the College Democrats and Young Democrats endorsement of Wade Munday is very disturbing to me. What follows is an email I just received from a friend who served as President of the University of Memphis College Democrats.

Executive Committee Members and Fellow Democrats,

As former President of the University of Memphis College Democrats and past Political Director of the Tennessee Federation of College Democrats, I felt obligated to write this letter in response to the attacks Chairman Forrester has recently made against TFCD President Cody Goodman and candidates for Chairman Matt Kuhn and Wade Munday. These attacks by Mr. Forrester demonstrate that he is no longer interested in uniting our party, but rather securing himself a job for the next 2 years. The TFCD and Young Democrats are organizations that the party should be completely focused on building and promoting rather than degrading when they disagree with your leadership.

The future of our party resides within the youth of our party. With the increasing apathy of my generation, the attacking of College Democrats only fosters the future demise of our party. The last few days, Chairman Forrester has promoted himself as the candidate who can reach across ideological lines and unite the party, yet he attacks the future generation of the TNDP. My question to Mr. Forrester is how can you build party unity when you attack anyone who questions your leadership?

Mr. Forrester’s letter also states that Matt Kuhn and Wade Munday lack the experience to conduct a statewide reorganization of the party; however, he neglects to mention that Matt is the former county chair of the largest and most diverse County in Tennessee, Shelby County. During his tenure as Chairman, Matt presided over their reorganization and therefore has the experience necessary to orchestrate a statewide reorganization.

As a life long Tennessean and Democrat, born and raised in Jackson and a graduate of The University of Memphis, I have experienced both urban and rural life in this great state. I have also had the opportunity of serving on numerous campaign staffs including Harold Ford Jr. for US Senate and Roy Herron for Congress, which has given me insight into the inner workings of Tennessee Politics. For this reason I believe there is one person who can rebuild our party and put us on the path of regaining our majority, that person is Matt Kuhn.

Having worked with Matt on both Jim Kyle’s bid for Governor and Roy Herron’s congressional campaign, I have gained the upmost respect for Matt both as a political leader and someone I am proud to call my friend. His resume and credentials speak volumes to his ability to move our party forward and begin the task of replacing what we have lost.

I ask that each member of the Executive Committee weigh the options placed before them on Saturday and ask yourselves which candidate will stand up for Tennessee Democrats and begin to unify our party, for me the answer is simple Matt Kuhn.


Michael Lipe

Nov 14 2010

Thinking About the Chair

Posted by Steve Ross in TNDP, Uncategorized

Tuesday, November 9, 2010, the day of his birthday, TNDP Chair Chip Forrester asked the members of the TNDP Executive Committee to elect him chair once again.

The timing of the Chair’s appeal may seem indelicate. Just one week has passed since the most devastating election cycle in history, and just hours before the letter was released one of the House Democratic Caucus’ most tenured members passed away. That said, I don’t think Mr. Forrester’s intent was to seem indelicate. Chances are, this was part of a long-held plan that was carried out despite conditions not cooperating.

There’s been a lot of talk about the state of Tennessee’s Democratic Party. There will likely be a lot more talk about who should chair the organization. That said, I think an honest critique of the past two years is necessary. It hasn’t been all bad, but there’s also been plenty that hasn’t been good.

First we should look at the list of accomplishments .


Forrester lists 10 things as accomplishments: Executive Committee Involvement, Open Communication, Training, County Outreach and Party Building, Solid and Sustainable Fundraising, Elimination of Party Debt, Candidate Recruitment and Training, SOS Trainings, 21st Century Technology, TNDP Staff Development.

There are some things here that I think Forrester did well, and some other things that I think he did not.

Clearly eliminating debt is a big accomplishment. Of course, we’ll have to wait until the next disclosure to find out if that debt is completely gone, or if it’s re-appeared in the wake of the last cycle.

Executive Committee outreach is good, and keeping your door open to your constituents (the Executive Committee) is a good idea. In fact, Forrester opened his door to many of us, early on. It seems that once the political climate cooled down a little, that openness gave way to something else.

The Technology enhancements and Staff development are also good things. If we want to compete consistently, having a group of people who have done the work and know what to do is really important. With more resources, this could have been even better. With a better, more cooperative political situation, it could have been bulletproof. Still, the investment is a good start for whomever becomes Chair in January.

Needs Improvement

Training is listed three times in the list of accomplishments. I assume, based on the structure of the letter that one was for Executive Committee Members, one for Candidates, and one for regular Joes like myself. Having attended one of those trainings, I can tell you that it was a good intellectual exercise. However, the kind of training you need to be a valuable volunteer, or a mid-level campaign person is the kind you can only get by doing it. On that count, the training left much to be desired. Not coupling an action with the training was a missed opportunity.

Because I’m not an Executive Committee Member I don’t know what training occurred, or to what effect. I know several members of the State Executive Committee. Some are very active in the community, others seem to be seat warmers and little else. Still, the effort to activate these party leaders is a good thing, even if it didn’t have a huge effect. If we can’t get the people elected to represent us with our party involved, it bodes ill for the future of our party.

Based on the results of the election, I would say that candidate recruitment is sorely lacking, though that is a coordinated effort between the TNDP and the Caucus organizations, so you can’t pin it all on one person. I am aware of some serious last second scrambling as the filing deadline approached. That alone leads me to believe that the recruitment process needs improvement.

Ummm, I’m not seeing that

County Outreach/Party Building and Fundraising are also listed as accomplishments. Maybe these things are happening somewhere else, but they’re not happening in the areas of the state that I have contact with. We raised $2m in 2008 and 2010 and still lost. Clearly, just raising money isn’t the key to victory.

On the flip side, if you have an engaged and activated electorate, they’ll be sure to vote, and maybe even take some people with them. But no one I talk to feels any strong allegiance to the state party. They call themselves Democrats, but they see the TNDP as a bunch of “Nashville people” who don’t really care that much about anyone outside of Nashville.

But the problem runs deeper than that. Most people don’t even know who their state party Executive Committee members are, and almost none of these functionary positions are ever contested. Of the 66 positions up for election in August, only 14 (21%) were contested, and one didn’t even have a candidate. If the party were healthy, and people felt they had a chance at some voice in its operations, these seats would be stepping stones for higher office.

Until people feel like the investment they make in time to a party will lead to a stronger organization, rather than a relationship that uses and forgets, this isn’t going to change. It’s not Chip’s fault that the system is set up the way it is, but I haven’t seen the party generally, reach out beyond the usual suspects to engage people. That has to happen statewide to ultimately be successful.

Back to the fundraising issue, it’s great that we raised $2m, but until the last three months, not one TNDP missive was issued with an ask. Seriously, I’ve received hundreds of emails from the TNDP, each costing around $250 to hit all the people on their mailing list, according to disclosures, and the only ones to ask me for money came in the three months leading up to November, when everyone and God was asking for my hard earned scratch. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. My sense is that had the TNDP asked every time they sent out an email blast, they would have, at least covered the cost of the blast, if not gained more than they spent. Further, when people invest early and often they feel connected to the organization. That financial investment can lead to an investment of your most precious resource, time. Unfortunately, that didn’t materialize until the end of the game, and by then, the flood of money into the state coupled with a Republican Gubernatorial candidate with unlimited funds, made it too late to build momentum or have any particular impact.

Areas Not Covered

There are a couple of notable things missing from this list of accomplishments. Messaging being one of them.

There was never a coherent message that came out of the TNDP press office, ever. Looking back at the press releases the party sent out over the course of the past two years, the vast majority of them, particularly before the August primary, expressed “the sense of the Chair”.

I’m going to be honest, if people don’t know their state executive committee members, they also probably don’t know or care what the Chair of the state party thinks. For all intents and purposes, the leader of the Democratic Party was Phil Bredesen, like it or not. Bredesen had the bully pulpit as governor. The TNDP should have encouraged him to use it to give more impact to the message the party wanted to convey. Once the field cleared in the Gubenatorial race, the leader should have been Phil Bredesen and Mike McWherter. That never happened either.

While I’m aware of talks about establishing a common theme or coordinating a message statewide, it just never happened.

Again, not all of this can or should be pinned on the Forrester. Crafting a common theme can be difficult. Getting candidates to rally behind a theme can be like herding cats. But in order to establish a theme, everyone has to be on the same page on some fundamental issues and for a whole bunch of reasons, that didn’t happen.

Another issue that isn’t mentioned and probably didn’t help anything is the strained relationship between the chair and the “old guard”. We’ve seen this play out on comment threads since January of 2009, and in the media. After months of public and private fighting, a truce was called in late April of 2009. This was followed by a feel good Summit at Monteagle attended by a couple of hundred Democrats including yours truly.

Unfortunately, the truce didn’t come with any great measure of widespread cooperation, and the shadow party that the truce prescribed never really materialized, which isn’t Forrester’s fault. Despite two successful Jackson Day events, the party still hasn’t shown any tangible signs of regaining ground in territory it once held, as evidenced by the loss of 14 previously held seats in largely rural areas and seems to have focused its efforts in East Tennessee, which hasn’t gone Democratic since before Reconstruction.


At the end of the day, Tennessee Democrats are where we are…in the wilderness. The question we need to ask ourselves is who is best suited to guide us out? Whether or not Forrester is to blame for the massive losses we experienced on November 2nd is inconsequential. He was in charge and keeping him in charge sends a message to people that we don’t have a plan to get out of the mess we’re in. For that reason alone, I don’t feel like he’s the guy to lead the party for the next two years.

That said, I don’t see Forrester’s Chairmanship as a complete failure. Forrester brought good ideas to the table, but the execution of many of those ideas either didn’t happen, or left much to be desired. In short, I feel the TNDP had ideas, but didn’t have a solid game plan.

The task ahead for Tennessee Democrats is huge. We have to rebuild our fundamentals, and fight off a redistricting regime that will try to wall us out of the seats of power for a very long time. In order to do that, we need both ideas and a plan. We need cooperation and coordination. We need to craft a coherent message and explore ways to deliver that message. Most importantly, we need to identify and activate people who may have been sitting on the sidelines waiting for the internal strife that has marked the past two years to settle down.

Ultimately, it’s not up to me who becomes the next chair of the party, it’s up to the Executive Committee. As we move toward the election of the Chair in January, I’ll be looking at the candidates and talking to my local Executive Committee members about who they believe has the best plan to move forward. Depending on who emerges, the best way forward may be through Chip Forrester. But until we know the field, and have a sense of any future plans, I’m in wait and see mode.


I think it bears mentioning that I applaud and respect the efforts of all the people who worked internally and externally for Democratic candidates in Tennessee. This includes not only the people who staffed the TNDP, but also the staffers and volunteers out there in the trenches of the multitude of House, Senate, Gubernatorial, and Congressional races. Our losses would have been much greater without your dedication and effort. I hope that you will continue working to rebuild our party.