Monday, April 14, 2014

Some thoughts on where we are and WHO we are and WHAT we are as Democrats.

A couple of weeks ago, I was having a discussion with a friend who is also an elected official.  My friend suggested, with good reason, that next year, when there are NO partisan elections, that we have a retreat or gathering with as many of us who consider ourselves to be Democrats gather to discuss just what we mean when we say we are Democrats.

Part of our problem, at least on a statewide basis, is that so many Democrats wanted to run from what it meant to be a NATIONAL Democrat, since that involved discussions of race and what we were as Democrats prior to 1964.  We had Democrats in the rural areas that wanted no part of the Democrats of the urban areas that brought them statewide victories.  Many of them retired or got beat in response to the election of Barack Obama as President.

Also as much as no one wanted to admit it, there were (and ARE) urban Democrats who wanted no part of the rural Democrats that enabled us to control the General Assembly for 140 years, along with the machinery of state government.

The true fact, as far as I am concerned, Democrats are not all ANYTHING.  We are a polyglot, with white, black, brown, straight, gay, transgender, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, with the occasional Buddhist thrown in for good measure.  The Republicans have spent the last 40 years attacking any position left of far right, much less left of center.  In the process, they have done their best to destroy harmony in this country, marginalizing centrist Republicans and forcing moderates like Lamar Alexander to kowtow to the further of the right.

However, due to this situation, as many of us struggle with how to move the country's true center back TO the center, we face a struggle within our own ranks.  These pop up especially in the primaries.

Those of us that sit on the Executive Committee must understand (and I include myself) that we are not the Party, but merely represent it.  Those who vote in primaries are the ones who truly can call themselves Democrats, and we have to figure out A) why so many Democrats refuse to take part in the primary process and B) just what it is that they want for their candidates.

And, C) why it appears that white candidates feel that they can't win primaries, and D) why African-Americans feel that white Democrats won't vote for African-Americans in county general elections.

Both of these are, in my opinion, overreactions.  Both of the men named Harold Ford could not have been elected without white support, and Steve Cohen could not have been elected without African-American support.  Indeed, I find that when it comes to elections involving actual issues and policy, such as executive races (Mayor, Sheriff) or legislative, all Democrats vote together.

That, above all else, is why ALL Democrats need to gather next year.  I intend to work behind the scenes for this as we move through the year.

Here's something to consider:  Regarding clerkship races, white Democrats often see no difference in policy, and many of them believe that court clerkships should be appointed by the judges of those jurisdictions rather than be elected.  I have said this before, and will keep saying it.  Clerkship races tend to be more about the number of jobs that can be hired than any policies that need to be reviewed. This is why we lose white Democrats at that point in the ballot.  That, and the face that we lose all types of Democrats that far down the ballot.

One of the problems that African-American candidates face is that, while activists like myself know these candidates, the average voters do not.  I can help to a certain extent, but if you plan to run countywide, you had better be able to raise at least $50,000 or you aren't going to have a chance to beat an incumbent.   Why?  Because you need to be able to do direct mail to Democrats, especially white Democrats.  If you have sent mail pieces to white Democrats, that makes it far more likely that they will greet you warmly when you do targeted door-to-door.   (I had a candidate once ask me this very thing several years ago).  We are, in fact seeing this more often, as I am starting to get mail pieces from all Democratic candidates.

As familiarity increases, so will the number of victorious Democratic candidates.  This leads me to my next topic.

As Democrats, we need to stop beating each other up in public.  (Waits for the tomatoes to be thrown).  I understand my own role in this, and work to do better.  To those who are candidates in the primary, I want to know not only why you are the best Democrat, but to know how you will beat the Republican you will face in the general.

And once we have completed this process, we have to work together and elect Democrats.  You may not like whom the Democratic electorate has selected as the candidate, but we have to respect that choice, regardless, because, to paraphrase Hyman Roth, this is the Party we have chosen.

This, too, is why I hope that we, as a Party Executive Committee, do NOT choose to endorse in the non-partisan judicial races.  If we wish to identify those who have voted more in the Democratic primaries, that's one thing.  Choosing between Democrats is not OUR job, it's the electorate's job, and we had better respect that.  It also takes focus away from our primary function: to assist the NOMINEES of the Party with their elections.  Also, as I know (and have DONE in the past), the ExecCom members will help whomever they please, as it's a NON-PARTISAN election.  ENDORSEES are NOT NOMINEES, now or ever.

With regard to Party Discipline, we have to be judicious and select the proper time for such matters, which is NOT the same thing as suggesting that we have NO discipline.   We can move forward from here.

I also have to say that Bryan Carson is doing an amazing job of juggling all the various groups within the party, and those of us who have been around for a while need to be there for him more than we have been.  He's doing a fine job right now, and he continues to bust his butt to elect Democrats.

It's time to work for the primary candidate of your choice, and then support whichever nominee is chosen by the Democratic electorate.

And let's think always about how to INCREASE that Democratic electorate.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Give me some RED MEAT, y'all!

As Kyle Veazey noted in his coverage of last night's Democratic County Mayoral debate, (sorry, behind a paywall) there was not much disagreement among the candidates, other than Rev. Kenneth Whalum calling, as he has throughout, that NO SCHOOLS should be closed in the city.  It got to a point where my co-blogger Jon and I figured that if we had taken a shot of whiskey every time he suggested this, our livers would have fallen out of our bodies before the first hour had ended.

I believe he is sincere, and I agree that we have to focus on the inner city in order to turn the city around, I just don't know how you fund that, since it will take a hell of a lot more than the $57 million that the courts say the city owes Shelby County Schools.  To be blunt, if a school is closing in a neighborhood, that is a real sign that the neighborhood is dead anyway, with anyone who could leave having done so.

Enough on that.  Even with all of that, all three of the candidates, including outgoing Commissioner Steve Mulroy and my favorite candidate, former Commission Chair Deidre Malone, would be a dramatic improvement over the incumbent, Mark Luttrell, who runs the County like it was a jail, something that I wish all three candidates would point out.

Y'all, PLEASE give us some red meat, will you??  All three of you need to beat up Mark Luttrell and point out his failures, because you are asking the electorate to reverse a decision they made four years ago, and that's not easy.  This means you A) have to point out why continuing his employment would be a costly mistake for Shelby Countians, and B) you then have to prove why YOU are the proper replacement.


Not physically, of course, that would be assault!   But ALL three of you need to attack him and attack him HARD and stop worrying about whether you are offending anyone.  If you are doing your jobs properly, SOMEONE will be offended, you just have to make sure it's the people who deserve to be offended!  I can't imagine that there are that many people who are voting in our primary that worry about Mark Luttrell's feelings.

Once this primary is over, you have to go HARD every day whacking the incumbent about the head and shoulders, and it's not like there's not a litany of reasons to do so: Title X, the anti-blight plan, Head Start, screwing over the city of Memphis, and on and on and on.

And when the Mayor shows up at Sidney Chism's picnic in June, whomever the winner is needs to be all up in Luttrell's grill about this stuff.  If you can't go after the REPUBLICAN County Mayor in Southwest Memphis, where the hell ARE you going to do it?  We need to be sure that any GOP candidate who shows up down there (and they ALL do) is confronted about their performance in office (or lack thereof).

Oh, and Early Voting starts downtown on April 16, and in the satellites on Friday, April 25.  Be ready, and go vote.


You can thank me later.

One last note:  Since my last post, this blog has not one, BUT TWO, writers that are now members of the Shelby County Democratic Party Executive Committee.  I replaced the legendary Steve Ross in House 90, and Jon Carroll is now representing House 93, along with our friend John Marek.  Thanks to all who voted for us to be there; we promise to raise hell, take names, and elect Democrats.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

I see what you did there, Commissioner Ford

Commissioner Justin Ford is in a tough re-nomination fight for his re-drawn County Commission seat.  During the redistricting, the parts of South Memphis surrounding the family funeral home at Florida and South Parkway were taken from him and given to Commissioner Walter Bailey.  Now, Ford's seat is primarily composed of Whitehaven and Westwood; while he is certainly known there, his strength is not as solid there as it was in South Memphis.

Add to that two fierce primary opponents in former MCS Board Commissioner Patrice Robinson and Memphis Education Association President Keith Williams, and the Commissioner faces the toughest campaign that he has had to face as a candidate.

All of that puts today's interesting development into context.

My phone blew up this morning with news that the Commissioner was planning to challenge Congressman Steve Cohen - as an INDEPENDENT.  This would have enabled him to avoid a primary; however, it would not have looked good if he were a sitting Democratic elected official who was undermining another Democratic nominee, regardless if it were the incumbent, Steve Cohen, or one of his challengers..

Then, it turns out that the petition was pulled but never filed, and by what Ford described as a "community group" that was not happy with the list of Democratic candidates for TN-09 and wanted him to run.  Ford was later quoted as saying that he may consider a Congressional run in two years.

UPDATE:  This is being edited to reflect new information, stop here and go read Jackson Baker, who, as always, has the full details.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Why we need to focus on MORE and BETTER Democrats at a state and local level

First, I apologize to the Tennessee Democratic County Chairs Association for not properly advertising the terrific event they had in Clarksville over the weekend.  I heard that they had a good turnout and people shared ideas on how to pull this state out of the death-grip of the Koch Brothers-owned Republican Party.  Right now, the TNDCCA is at the forefront of the movement, and I urge you to check them out.

I realize that people are disappointed that no one is challenging Governor Haslam other than his own party, but now is not the time to waste a run unless someone just wants to throw $10 million into a race.  Haslam is part of the problem, to be sure, but not the biggest part of the problem.

Until we regain a majority of the seats of one of the houses of the legislature, we can do nothing.  I am fully aware that it's very difficult right now the way the district lines have been drawn, anything we do is going to be an uphill fight.  That fight HAS to be fought, though.  This, year, next year, and every two years until we get control of the Assembly back in our hands.

It's going to require a lot of organizing and ground work, something that a lot of us seemingly have either forgotten how to do or gotten tired of doing it.  Unless you sell your soul to ALEC or Education "reformers" (see Deberry, John), you're not going to get much money with which to run for the legislative offices.  Given that we are in a post-Citizens United era, that makes life hard on those of us who do not believe in neo-feudalism and economic servitude.

What that means is that we have to change our message, change it to a message that will startle people at first, one the challenges people that vote against their own economic interests.  It means we need good candidates who aren't necessarily slick and who don't rely on messages that won't offend the wealthy, which means there are people in Nashville who won't be making money off the TNDP pushing neo-liberal or Blue Dog messages any more.

It means looking at some less-than-middle-class person who quit voting Democrat because we had the temerity to nominate and elect a person of color and saying this to him:


Sure, he will be pissed at first.  Then strike up a conversation where you talk to him about the GOP's economic vision is killing everyone but the 1% and ask him how rich the Republicans made HIM.  Until the culture is challenged, it won't change.  And if the culture won't change, then it will take all of us down with it.

We need people to run for the legislature that KNOW these things and can COMMUNICATE them.  Sure, at first, it will be tough.  But we have to stay on message and keep repeating it, just like the right-wing does.   Once you start, you can't stop.

One other thing.   The right-wing got control by running for smaller offices and working their way up, and that's what the left needs to do.  That's how you build a bench and that's how you train people to run.  Few things in life make me shake my head than to see someone who has no experience in politics run for a big office and then fall flat on their face, then bitch about politics.

It is a LEARNED SKILL, people.  You gotta work at it and pay your freaking dues.  Just because you look good or have money or you have people who follow you around and flatter you does not mean you should run for a high office off the bat.  Start with School Board, City Council, State Representative races.  Learn how to do it, and maybe you will catch a break and get elected.  Then, you learn the most important skill, one that most of the GOP in Nashville lack, the skill of GOVERNANCE.

Then, you can actually do what people sent you there to do: HELP THEM.

That's all for now, more in the next day or so.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Reginald Milton for County Commission, District 10

If ever someone's time has come, it's Reggie Milton's time.  Although he has never held elective office, his non-profit organization South Memphis Alliance has been a ground-breaker in bringing necessary social services to low-income families at, of all places, a LAUNDROMAT.  As this is widely used by the residents of the area, it helps them to access needed services that they might not otherwise be able to access.

Reggie is a pioneer in South Memphis and has worked with local officials in every area of government, making him particularly well-suited to serve the constituency of District 10.  I trust him to do the right thing and I know that not only is he the best candidate in the race, he will be the best public servant.

His primary opponents are former MCS Board member Martavius Jones and Jake Brown, who did some work for the State Party here before leaving to work for Liz Rincon's firm, which he has also left.  Jones did the right thing by voting for the MCS charter surrender, but his overall body of work on the Board was not, in my opinion, much more than adequate.

Brown is attempting to get the white Democratic vote (which, given the number of Midtown Democratic activists lined up behind Reggie, is rather puzzling) and has also been seen with folks formerly associated with, but now against, Congressman Steve Cohen.  THAT won't help Brown in Midtown, that's for sure.

It will be a heavily contested race, as Jones does have some well-heeled backers.  However, Milton does as well, and I think that the combination of organization and work-ethic that Reggie has displayed for all the years I have known him will carry the day.

I trust Reggie Milton, I support him and will vote for him for County Commission.  I hope that you will as well.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

It's all in how you prepare and how you respond

It took me 16 hours over two days to get from Dallas to Memphis.  Part of that was because I-30 was slowed to a horrible crawl yesterday between Greenville and Sulphur Springs, a 25-mile drive that took four hours.  Dallas was fine, and after Sulphur Springs we made great time all the way to Bryant, AR, where we stayed the night.

We stopped there, even though Memphis, under normal conditions, would only have been two hours away.  However, even then we knew that I-40 was a virtual parking lot between Brinkley and West Memphis, because the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department had not adequately prepped the roads for the winter blast of Sunday night. (we got that in Dallas, too: it was 82 on Saturday, 22 on Sunday).

Also, the I Drive Arkansas app would not work at times, so I drove on US 70 between Hazen and Shell Lake, and drove on roads that were covered in ice, and I STILL kept moving and making better time than I-40, which paralleled US 70 for a good portion of the trip.  We made that part of the run in roughly 3 hours.

We got back on 40 at Shell Lake about 2:45 PM, only a few miles outside of West Memphis.  It moved well until we got to near the Airport exit and everything stopped.  From that point, it took two hours and 30 minutes to get across the Desoto Bridge because of the road conditions.  We couldn't get good information, and the Crittenden County Sheriff's office hung up on me.

The AHTD and the State Police pretty much had a complete failure.  They KNEW this was coming, and they didn't pre-treat the roads, and we had the disaster that we had, and I-55 from the Bootheel to West Memphis was even worse.  There is no excuse for this situation, and this is what limited, reduced government of the type the Tea Party wants to force on us will bring you.

If taxes have to be raised to ensure that the state of Arkansas has the infrastructure necessary to prevent a recurrence, then RAISE THEM.  I-40 between Little Rock and Memphis is said to have the HIGHEST percentage of semi-truck travel in the UNITED STATES.  Their failure to prepare and then react has affected the commerce of the entire country, which matters more than a frustrated middle-age couple going from Dallas to Memphis.  Hell, there are trucks and people STILL on the damned expressways over there with no real idea how they are getting out of it tonight.  All the truck stops in West Memphis are FULL.

One of the things I thought of while driving in the middle of all this was that how this might have been different if, A) they had prepared properly, and B) we had TWO more bridges across the Mississippi River in this area.

It's time to COMPLETE THE BELTWAY.  Let's extend I-269 West from Millington,around the north end of Shelby Forest, around the junction of I-55 and US 63/I-555, then down on the western side of West Memphis, down around Horseshoe Lake, and across the river to meet the western end of I 69 near Tunica.  This would greatly ease the truck traffic around the city, and might have helped get rid of the slowdowns.

(Cue SMART CITY MEMPHIS screaming about sprawl!)

Too late for that, what sprawl we have has already taken place on the eastern edge of I-269/TN 385.  I seriously doubt that if this were to take place, Turrell, Arkansas would suddenly have 50,000 people move there, and same for Horseshoe Lake.  We need serious infrastructure improvements, and this would be spectacular.  It also would reduce the in-town semi-truck traffic for Memphis, and that is something we would all like.

Add to that the building of I-69 from here north to the Kentucky border, which is necessary AS SOON AS POSSIBLE, and we might just have something.

It's time to start building SOON.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Deidre Malone for County Mayor

I know, a lot of you probably thought I would jump on the Steve Mulroy bandwagon.  Why?

I supported Deidre 4 years ago, because I thought she was the best candidate running then, and I still do.  She is as solid a Democrat as there is, I served with her on the SCDP Executive Committee, and I was impressed then with her abilities to manage and coordinate while standing up for those issues that we as Democrats support.

She has been involved with large businesses, having served as a Vice President while at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, and small businesses, working with them for her public relations firm the Carter Malone Group.  She has served two terms on the Shelby County Commission, chairing the Budget Committee and the Commission itself.

It is one thing to be a good advocate, as Commissioner Mulroy has been, for the most part, and as Reverend Kenneth T. Whalum Jr. was on the School Board.  That is what good legislators do, and Deidre did that as well.

It is quite another to build consensus, to manage large projects, and coordinate diverse efforts, and that is why Deidre, in my opinion, stands head and shoulders about the other candidates in the Democratic field.  Deidre is the only candidate in the Democratic field that can show her abilities in this skill set, the ADMINISTRATIVE skill set, and she will prove why she can defeat Warden, er, Mayor Mark Luttrell in the August County General Election.

Look, I like Steve Mulroy, he stands up for a lot of the things I believe in, and he 's a great advocate.  I appreciate the Kellogg's campout, it's something that all Democrats need to be involved with, supporting our workers.

However, I have a question for him:  Do you remember back in October 2011, when Luttrell pulled the Title X funding from Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region and got the Commission to approve a contract for Christ Community Health Center, which was about the least-friendly option for reproductive rights for indigent women?  Remember how you wound up voting for that, which led to an angry call from me and we talked about it?  You even posted your reasoning on Facebook, which appeased a lot of people because you said that you would be able to get oversight for the CCHC operations to ensure that indigent women would get the reproductive services that had been provided by PPGMR.

My question is twofold, Commissioner.  First, where's the oversight?  I don't remember seeing ANYTHING in the CA, the Flyer, the Daily News, the MBJ or the TV stations about any oversight being done.  Has there been any oversight?  If so, what happened?

The second part of the question is this:  If you were to be elected Mayor, and the contract came up for renewal, would you support giving the contract back to PPGMR?  I think a lot of your potential supporters would love to know the answer to that question.

While we are waiting, let's talk about the Reverend Kenneth Whalum, Jr, whom I like and respect as well.  He knows how to advocate against something, as his pointed attacks on the poor campaign done by the Memphis Pre-K Initiative sank it.  His use of free media overcame the huge sums of money spent by the Pre-K folks, and he was smart about it.

One of the reasons that he is in this race, I believe, is that he is upset with Deidre for her support of the pre-K Initiative and for her support of the MCS-SCS merger, which I also supported and proudly so.  Yes, the Reverend has screamed about the $57 million supposedly owed by the City of Memphis to MCS/SCS (Shea Flinn can prove that the schools actually owe the city, but I digress), and he was on the Board when that was going on, so what happened?

It is also important to remember WHY MCS surrendered its charter.  The GOP-dominated legislature was going to allow the then-suburban based SCS to draw a hard boundary and create a Special School District, which would have forced MCS to rely on just the tax money from within the city, which would have starved it to death.  (yes, I agree that MCS was overly layered with bureacracy, but that's an argument for another day).  SCS would have gotten richer, MCS would have gotten poorer, and the downward spiral would have escalated quickly.

Now, since the merger took place, all the schools in MCS receive money from the ENTIRE county as the unified district, while all the folks living in the burbs with their own MSDs have to pay for TWO systems, like Memphis used to do.  The problems in SCS now have far more to do with the GOP agenda to force excessive testing on the system in their never-ending attempt to destroy public education.  You know that to be true, Reverend, why don't you mention that?

You say you want to retire and replace ineffective politicians; I can appreciate that.  So why are you opposing someone who has actually been EFFECTIVE?   You have to be more specific in your advocacy and you need to tell us how you're going to do this.

And all of you need to tell us why Luttrell needs to go, because the media, especially TV, seems be in the tank for him.  It's one thing for me to tell people why he runs the county like a jail, but you ALL need to do it.

Since I believe Deidre Malone is not only the best candidate for doing just that, by governing this county and working with the Commission to achieve a higher standard, I am supporting her for Mayor, and I hope you will as well.