Aug 13 2014

Too broken to bother with?

Posted by Steve Ross in Shelby County

Not everything is fixable...but that doesn't mean its disposable

Not everything is fixable…but that doesn’t mean its disposable

There are some things in this world that are more disposable than others.

When they break, rather than trying to put Humpty back together again, you just discard it.

Wine glasses are the weakest link in our home. Hell, probably every home.

They’re not really that expensive (if you keep getting the cheap ones) and when they break you don’t even consider fixing them because…well that’s just too OCD.

Chances are, the thing wouldn’t hold anyway, or would leak like a sieve.

Why bother.

But there are other things that aren’t disposable. When they’re broken, battered or bruised, you need to try and help fix them.

There are lots of both constructive and less-than constructive ways to do that…but we need to understand that just like no two people put a puzzle together exactly the same way…there is also no one set way to fix something you care about.

No matter what, If you value something, you should be willing to be a part of fixing it.

A conversation with a friend

Over the 4th of July weekend, I was at a cookout with some friends. Most of the people I know are on the “more active” side of the political activity scale. Since early voting was just a few days away, the conversation turned to the election.

As it happens, July 4th was just two days after Judge Joe Brown voiced allegations about DA Amy Weirich’s sexual orientation. Needless to say, due to the freshness of the topic, this was at the top of the conversation list.

There was universal agreement that the attack was out of line. Just two years before the County Party had taken a stand in favor of equality for the LGBT community. It seemed wildly discordant that one of the party’s candidates would then turn around and try to use sexual orientation as a line of attack.

Then came the question, “Why is the SCDP such a bunch of clowns?”.

That got my attention.

The speaker went on to air a long list of grievances, many relevant, some less relevant.

I listened intently. We talked back and forth about some of the challenges. After hearing, yet another declaration of the party’s ineptitude I smiled and said, “You have the power to help change that. When’s the last time you came to a party re-organizing convention?”

The answer was either never, or so long ago its not relevant.

We talked about that. Eventually we agreed to disagree as to whether that kind of participation would do any good. Fatalism is a common refrain in Democratic politics, it seems.

This person is a good strong Democrat. Someone we should want working with us. But they don’t feel like its worth their time to fix it. Its not that the party is disposable to them, its that their so frustrated, they don’t know what to do, and they don’t feel like anyone else is doing anything (or knows what to do) either.

Putting Humpty Back Together Again

Humpty before the fall

Humpty before the fall

From my initial involvement in the County party in 2006, to today, there has been plan after plan to try to transform the party into a positive force in the community. Some of those plans have been better than others. Few have ever been executed even partially.

The party is factionalized, regionalized, and its members are often suspicious of each other…concerned about some grand conspiracy to somehow take what little power they feel they have away by empowering some other faction or another.

Its tragically comedic, but it goes back to old fights…some decades old, and grudges that have outlived the patrons.

I’m not going to pretend the body has a long history of being truly effective. In talking to folks who were involved in the 80’s and 90’s, it seems clear that the party has long been more focused on the minutiae and turf wars than on the kind of “global” goals that would bring about success in those Countywide contests that have been so fleeting.

There’s been an internal struggle over the “power of the party” which at the same time has rendered the party largely impotent. And truth be told, there are some elected officials who have benefitted by that impotence…though most of them, at this point, are either long gone, or are halfway out the door.

Putting Humpty together again means getting past some of these old fights. In the 2011-12 cycle, it looked like we were getting there. But much of the progress of that term was lost too easily, as new leadership came in, and much of the party’s institutional memory shifted out.

That’s not to blame Chairman Carson, or the new Executive Committee…because these things happen with leadership change.

But while the leadership at the top of the County Party structure may have been in flux, leadership in terms of elected officials within Shelby County…Mayors, City Council Members, Commissioners, State House and Senate members, and all the way up to Congress, has been largely stable, and completely disengaged.

When your elected Democrats aren’t engaged in the party, there’s no way to get around the leadership struggles…and lose a big part of the organization’s institutional memory in the process.

Leaders must lead

There’s an interesting dynamic between the County Party and elected Democratic officials in Shelby County…the lack of a working relationship of any kind.

Most elected officials have been able to stay in office just fine without the help of the County Party, so its reasonable to understand why they might not see the value in to having an effective organization…until things go wrong.

Then, just like disengaged “rank-and-file” Democrats out there who loudly complain about the party’s failures, so do the party’s electeds.

The most visible example of this is the statement made by Congressman Cohen on election night, which I quoted in this post.

I’m not saying Congressman Cohen is wrong, because he isn’t…but just like the conversation with my friend, its a bit hypocritical to criticize the County Party when you’ve not really been engaged in it.

Cohen has built a powerful campaign operation every cycle since 2006. His campaign has very strong fundamentals…and that’s a big reason why he wins consistently.

But as soon as the campaign season is over, that operation goes dark. The operators, by and large, go their separate ways, until the next time they need to assemble to defend the Congressman against a challenger.

That level of expertise is direly needed in the County party. And while some members of the Cohen team have engaged the party, and been largely flummoxed by the goings on, the Congressman hasn’t taken the opportunity to mentor and nurture party leadership outside his organization.

Its not my purpose to beat up on Congressman Cohen. He’s just one example of this scenario.

Truth is Mayor Wharton (the Democratic County Mayor from 2002 to 2009), amassed an impressive campaign structure in his own right in 2011 only to dismantle it and disengage. He’s just as guilty of doing this, as is every other elected Democrat in Shelby County…current or former.

Leaders don’t get to complain that something’s broken, then not try to be a part of working to fix it…especially when they’re associated with it (via party designation).

But lets be clear here. I’m not calling on electeds to set up another kind of ‘boss’ structure. Competing bosses…even long after they’re relevant, and the unproductive fights they engage in, are a big part of what brought us to where we are today.

I’m saying they should lend their expertise, and mentor up and coming leaders who can help the party become more effective.

The effectiveness vacuum we’re going through now is not for the lack of bosses, but because of bosses…and damage caused by them that no one has been able to repair.

I would hope our elected leaders would take part in helping repair that damage…without remaining part of the problem through neglect…or becoming part of a bigger problem through the strong-arm tactics of past bosses.


The local party has had structural problems for a long time.

What has happened this cycle is just a more extreme example of what happened in 2010, and nearly on par with the shenanigans of 2008…minus the success.

Lets get one thing clear: the party isn’t a sentient being. It takes a coalition of people working together to keep going. It takes a great deal of expertise, time and care to have a healthy party.

If the coalition that makes up the Executive Committee puts self-interest, or apathy, or any other negative thing ahead of the building, we find ourselves back at square one wondering, “what now”?

Maybe that’s where we start…with “What can I do to help” rather than just stating the obvious…that its broken.

If we don’t, we’ll find ourselves right back, in this same place in four years time…wondering how to put Humpty back together again…or if its even worth the effort to try.

Aug 03 2012

Bullet Dodged? – Shelby Elections Edition #WrongBallot

Posted by Steve Ross in elections, Shelby County

The Return of the Dangling Chad?

This post isn’t about my race at all. It’s too soon for me to write anything remotely coherent about that right now, though I may write a series of very short posts later on. We’ll see.

This is about the results of the Primary election in Shelby County from yesterday and how the wrong ballot problem may or may not have impacted the outcome of race.

There was a concern that the error rate we were seeing out of House Districts with contested Primary elections would lead to contested results in determining the Democratic nominee. For instance, by the end of Early Voting, House District 90 was showing a 15% error rate over all (people voting in and out of district). That’s pretty substantial and could have completely thrown the election.

An election with a result falling inside this error margin would have likely resulted in a challenge. However, that wouldn’t have been decided in court, but rather by the State and Local Party structures. This is something no party wants to be faced with.

For those of you familiar with the Primary Election ouster of Rosalind Kurita, you know that this can be both an emotional and controversial issue. Her case was different….Democratic bona fides were the question. A challenge based on a bad election would have been even more difficult because the actions of a third party, in this case the Shelby County Election Commission, would have been at issue rather than the qualities or qualifications of candidates themselves.

Regardless, the local party structure would have been asked to make a choice and in the most hotly contested elections that choice would have been very difficult and divisive.

Its still too early to tell, and none of the election day participation has been analyzed, but at first glance it appears that both the Shelby County Election Commission and the local Party structures are off the hook on this issue. The margins of victory lead me to believe that even if a challenge is brought it will be denied by the party. This is just an initial impression.

While the Shelby County Election Commission may have dodged this bullet, and the additional black eye that would have come with it, there are still plenty of issues regarding this election that need to be investigated. It is my hope that the investigation by the State Comptrollers office is transparent, thorough, and speedy. Anything less would leave questions in the minds of the voters.

I’ll also be looking into much of this. I don’t want to overly bird-dog the Election Commission, but I also think its important the public fully understand what has happened and how to move forward and regain the faith and trust of the public.

Stay Tuned…

Oct 27 2011

Dogs and Ponies and Fundraisers, Oh My!

Posted by Steve Ross in Shelby County, State Politics

Yesterday, the State Government put out a release about the Governor’s budget tour. Here’s a sample:

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced that portions of the Fiscal Year 2012-2013 budget hearings will take place outside of Nashville so that citizens in East and West Tennessee have an opportunity to attend. Hearings will be held in Knoxville and Memphis, which will mark the first time in state history that budget proceedings will occur away from the State Capitol.

Scheduled to begin on November 2, the budget hearings will be streamed live on as in years past to give Tennesseans that are unable to attend accessibility to the budget discussions of each state agency.

Minimum Bid $500

Dandy. Believe you me, I’ll be there…after my Map quiz.

I don’t want to belittle this too much because I actually like the idea of the government going around and talking to people about what government does. I think it’s important for people to have a good understanding of government, and that understanding should start with how it’s funded. Without funding, nothing happens, regardless of what Grover Norquist tells you.

Hopefully this will be a real live discussion of government, not just a dog and pony show. You know I’ll be writing about it either way.

But that’s not all the good Governor has on tap. Just hours after I got notice of this meeting I got this invitation to a $500 a head fundraiser for Republican candidate for DA, Amy Weirich.

Now look, I don’t begrudge Amy for doing what any smart politician would do, seek out the biggest name they can get to help raise money for a first term, even if she is a Republican. I have plenty of friends who like her, yadda, yadda, yadda… However I, like my blogfather Steffens, am still waiting for a mythical Democrat to announce for the race.

After this fundraiser, and considering all the folks she has behind her, that seems unlikely.

But isn’t it convenient that Gov. Haslam, a man of the Pilot Fortune, could be in town on state business while this event is taking place. What a coincidence!

This, of course, comes just days after Haslam held the most successful fundraiser at the Governor’s residence in history. $550,000 may be a drop in the bucket to ole Bill, but it’ll buy a truckload or two of Pilot travel mugs if the going gets tough.

So, there ya go. I will be at the budget meeting, but I won’t be at the fundraiser. $500 is too rich for my blood, never mind the whole Republican part of the equation. In the mean time I’ll be doing everything I can to dispel the notion that Democrats have given up in Shelby County. Lord knows, if we give up here, we’re toast statewide.

Mar 25 2011

This Won’t Be Pretty – Redistricting Edition

Posted by Steve Ross in State Politics

Even though the State Legislature probably won’t tackle redistricting until next year, right now is the time to start thinking about it. Wednesday night, my buddy and blogfather, Leftwingcracker and I talked to the Germantown Democratic Club about this and other topics.

As the CA and other outlets reported last week, Shelby County, and Memphis in particular, hasn’t kept pace with the rest of the state population wise. Not even a little bit. That means there’s going to be some radical changes with the next district maps, and it isn’t going to be good for our Democratic Representatives and Senators in Nashville.

Below is a graphic that includes the current House and Senate Districts in Shelby county.

Click for larger, less fuzzy image

As you can see, there are 16 House seats and 6 Senate seats. Thanks to the absolute lack of population growth in the past 10 years, that won’t be the case in 2012.

Based on the work of Nashville Blogger Sean Braisted, it’s looking like Big Shelby is going to lose two House Seats and 1 Senate Seat.

If you look at the numbers on his post, every Democratic seat in Shelby Co., with the exception of HD85 has lost population since 2000. By contrast, the only Republican held seat to lose population is HD97 held by Jim Coley. But they’re not going to draw him out. Nope, we’re probably going to see some Democrats put in the same district, and that’s not going to be good for the party as a whole, or the county.

I wrote about this possibility back in May of 2009, and it looks like my suspicions were right on target.

The only possible consolation that may come of all this is that one Republican district in east Shelby may have to become a little more blue. All that depends on how they draw the districts, and I’ll guarantee you, they won’t do that until they absolutely have to.

With huge majorities in the House and the Senate, Republicans run redistricting. This means that not only are our state legislators going to have a lot of new ground to cover, but so will our Congressman, Steve Cohen.

What this requires is some serious organizing all over the county. Some areas are better at it than others, but every single precinct has to get it together to drive out the vote in 2012. We can’t rely on Obama, or anyone else to do it for us, not that they won’t be working their butts off anyway. We have to take charge of the situation and get it done for ourselves.

This weekend is the SDCP reorganization. It’ll be held at American Way Middle School on 3805 American Way. If you are a registered voter in Shelby County and care about electing people who carry the Democratic banner, please attend.

Even if you don’t want to be a delegate or serve on the SCDP executive committee, just show up to show your support. You’ll meet Democrats from all over the county, and at the very least, have the chance to meet some folks from your own district you may have never met before.

Registration starts at 9am. You must be registered or in line for registration by 10:30 am to participate.

Hope to see you there.

Aug 21 2009

Two Events, One Perspective

Posted by Steve Ross in City of Memphis, Shelby County

I spent the day today getting ready to go see my brother and niece, and attending events around Memphis.

The first event was the Mid-Southerners for Choice Luncheon hosted by Planned Parenthood of Greater Memphis featuring Jeanne Richardson (HD-89).

It was an inspiring event, attended by people who firmly believe in protecting a women’s right to reproductive healthcare. Jeanne gave a great presentation and even brought up Rep. Karen Camper whose alias I will not reveal. Jeanne talked about SJR127 and the urgency of organization and action in the coming years.

Later in the day I went to the Shelby Co. Young Democrats Mixer at SOLE in the new Westin Hotel near the Forum. This was a well organized, well attended meet and greet. Lots of people I didn’t know and unfortunately, didn’t get to meet, that’s how thick it was. Good on the organizers and the SCDP for organizing it.

What was missing? YOU WERE.

I don’t know all my readers, but I know a bunch of them, and I didn’t see all of you.

I know you’re out there, and I love you for reading, but I’d love you more for being out there. Come join me at these events.

I’m taking a break for the weekend to see my family. The next few weeks are going to be pretty crazy around here with the special election looming and maybe as many as 40 candidates running for Mayor, a possible Metro Charter Commission, and the Senate 31 race, which will no doubt be interesting.

Rest up, we’re all gonna need it.