Over the past several days the two of us (Steve Steffens of LeftWingCracker and Steve Ross of Vibinc) have engaged in a public shouting match over the race for the chair of the SCDP.
After some careful personal reflection, and an outpouring of concern from friends, we both recognize that we agree on more things than we disagree on, and those disagreements are grounded largely on perspective: one, as a long time political observer, activist and volunteer, who wants strong, effective leadership for the SCDP, but is suspicious of “unproven” leaders, the other, as a newer political observer, who also wants strong effective leadership at the SCDP, but who is suspicious of the “legacy factions” that have served to divide the party.
These two perspectives are not necessarily contrary. The truth of the matter is that both Mr. Bailey and Mr. Turner are unproven leaders supported by “legacy factions”. Both men have achieved great things in their lives, but neither has necessarily distinguished themselves as a leader that can unite the party in any way other than within their core groups of supporters.
As President Obama said in his Inaugural Address; “the time has come to set aside childish things.” This rings true in local politics as well. It means that both candidates are going to have to do more than print nice promo material, or pass out stickers to gain the trust of Democrats throughout Shelby County. It is the Democrats of Shelby County that will give the money and the time to the party and it’s candidates over the next 2 years, and it is the Democrats of Shelby County, regardless of whether they serve on the Committee or not, that these two candidates need to be reaching out to and communicating with to ensure that the County Party is more than a monthly exercise in Robert’s Rules of Order.
At this point, neither candidate has been particularly impressive in their outreach. Neither candidate has done much to distinguish from the other. In fact, both candidates’ platforms are strikingly similar. This last point is interesting. If what needs to happen at the County Party level is not in dispute, as a general statement, then why can’t both candidates come together, address the issues jointly, and speak out against the elements of their support base who are more interested in division than unity?
And that’s really where it ends up. Most of the people we’ve talked to, that have voiced objections to Mr. Turner or Mr. Bailey, have cited their supporters as the primary or secondary objection rather than the men or the platforms they are running on. That is madness.
The truth of the matter is that the Democratic Party is at a crossroads in Tennessee. In two years the state legislature will begin the process of redistricting the state. How this plays out will in large part depend on how well the entire Democratic establishment organizes and unifies. As the minority party in both the State House and Senate, we stand at the precipice of losing as many as 3 seats in the US House, not to mention all the state House and Senate seats that can be gerrymandered to serve the interests of the Republicans. The SCDP, as the largest County Democratic organ in the state, has a huge opportunity and responsibility to ensure that we not only defend and expand the seats we have in Shelby County, but also provide support, by coordinating with the various county organizations and the state party, to help regain control of at least one body of the legislature.
We cannot do this as a divided house.
This is a time for unity. This is a time to set aside long held divisions and work together, as Democrats, to ensure victory and to reclaim our place as a leader, not only in Shelby County, but also throughout the state.
In order to do this we have to establish trust in the SCDP, between the incoming 71 Executive Committee members and the factions that make up the body. For this to work, all sides have to abandon their roles as “spoiler” or “kingmaker” and work together for the best interest of the largest and most diverse collection of Democrats in the state.
It’s time for leadership in the SCDP that represents and is committed to work with ALL SHELBY COUNTY DEMOCRATS. We have offered up our blogs to both candidates, and hope they take the opportunity to engage Democrats throughout the county. Turning back on this responsibility now will likely cripple any efforts in the future to unite and effectively lead the party forward, leaving us, once again, with a dysfunctional and divided local party.
Democrats both in Shelby County, and throughout the state can’t afford to let that happen.