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.
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.
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.