Thursday, October 13, 2005

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions

Ever hear your daddy say that to you? Yep, mine too.

We potentially have a situation like that brewing in the SCDP. My friend Del Gill, one of the smartest people I know, is proposing a resolution to the ExecCom that has nuclear potential for the Party if it passes.

It would establish the criteria for a "bona fide" Democrat, and give the power to the ExecCom to deny potential candidates and even current elected officials the right to run as Democrats in the future. There seems to be a question in state law of just how much power the ExecCom has in that regard; they have in fact prevented state legislative candidates in the past from running as Democrats.

However, there is a real question as to whether the ExecCom has the right to deny COUNTY officials or candidates that right. Brother Gill says that the TCA does in fact say that; however, as bright and sharp as he is, he's not a lawyer, and I'd feel more comfortable seeing an appellate opinion that backs up that claim first.

This has been brewing for some time, as in certain Democratic circles there is a deep resentment of Mayor AC Wharton, who some feel did little to help other Democratic candidates in the August 2002 County general elections. That resentment has only deepened recently as Wharton openly endorsed GOP Attorney General incumbent Bill Gibbons. I do understand that feeling well; he beat the hell out of my friend and candidate Carol Chumney in the May 2002 primary.

I also understand the need for party discipline; it's not for nothing that Will Rogers said, "I'm not a member of any organized political party, I'm a Democrat!" However, let's bring this back to earth for just a moment, shall we?

1) It's damned near impossible to defeat an incumbent in County races unless that incumbent is under indictment or investigation, and right now there is no Democratic candidate for Attorney General. Given that Wharton has figured out that, short of an untimely demise or an indictment of Gibbons, he'll have to work with him in a second term, he did the smart and prudent thing. Not to mention those lovely crossover votes that this helps bring in the general election.

2) Let's play Bizarro World and say that this passes. Let's say that when the Mayor (I repeat, the MOST POPULAR elected official in Shelby County, even more than the Man Who Would Be Senator) comes to file as a Democrat for re-election, the SCDP says, "uh-uh, not this time."

What do you think will happen here? One, he'll file as an Independent; two, the Republicans may offer him a spot on THEIR ballot, and he would win, or three, the GOP runs someone else, while a Democratic candidate with neither the money nor the organization gets just enough votes to throw that race to the Republicans. Then, Rita Clark is by herself again in the County Building. Friends, that's not cutting your nose off to spite your face, that's DECAPITATING yourself to spite your face.

Not to mention, if you do that, where does it stop? What the hell, I'd have someone to go after any Democrat who supported Otis Jackson against John Freeman in the 2000 Register's race. All that would do is lead to an endless series of recriminations while the party became a meaningless shell and irrelevant in the political life of the County.

OK, Cracker, good points. However, how the hell do we maintain party discipline?

One, you have to build a Ward & Precinct operation that actually makes a difference in the electoral lives of our elected officials. You have to have captains in every precinct and on every street. In this day and age where there's damned little if any patronage to toss out, that's hard to do.

Two, you have to get people excited about being involved, whether they live Downtown or in Collierville, in Millington or Westwood, etc and so forth. We have to GROW the Party, not shrink it right now.

Three, when you get the base larger (and it's not anywhere NEAR big enough, people, trust me), you develop a stronger financial footing and make the SCDP a REAL power that elected officials fear to cross.

When you can do THAT, THEN you can hold the Sword of Damocles over their heads. THEN, they'll listen; now, most would just laugh.

So, those are my thoughts as I await my email from Del in response, which, if he allows, I will share with you. What do YOU think?


Richmond said...

Steve, I dislike intensely bringing up unpleasant topics (well, except for the Bears' offense and the entire Viking organization), but when I read your entry, my initial thought was "Oh, it's race again." I can't verify it, of course and, equally of course, if it is a reality, those responsible would deny it vociferously, but the entire exclusionary scheme strikes me as a power play on behalf of either white against black or vice-versa. Lyndon Johnson's comments bear repeating and then updating here. "Bill (Moyers), you know we're doing the right thing, but we're turning the South over to the Republicans for 100 years" is as appropeau today as it was on July 2, 1964. What President Johnson may not have forseen was how the inability of black and white Democrats to perceive common interests (post-Dixiecrat departure) has facilitated and helped to consolidate near-Republican dominance throughout the South. When the only Senators we can elect are Blanche Lincoln, Mary Pryor and Mary Landrieu, something is very wrong somewhere. That something, it seems to me, roots itself in the local and county conflicts that your article so necessarily mentions.

RAM said...

Dear Mr. Cracker, I like your ideas about building up the ward and precincts with captains, etc. Mr. Gill pontificates about a lot of things. I suggest to Mr. Gill that he shut up, get to work for the Democratic party by working on the issues committee, the candidate recruitment committee, and the ward/precinct committee. He seems to have some kind of thorn in his side from when he ran for office. Give it up, Mr. Gill. Join the new Democrats as we move forward from the grassroots up. Get to work, Mr. Gill. Register some voters. Meet with your district. Do something different for a change.

BraveCordovaDem said...

Thanks Cracker. I won't comment a lot on Del's proposal until I have a chance to hear his side in detail (but no too much detail). Basically, I believe in as broad of a definition as possible of what a Democrat is and believe that we should lean more in the direction of attracting people and rebuilding a broader base.

I have been involved in Shelby Democratic politics for 35 years and have heard the same thing over and over about building a ward and precinct organization. Let me stick my neck out say that it is highly unlikely that it will ever happen. It is less likely now due to a weakening of the Ward and precinct structure due to early voting, convuluted precinct lines due to gerrymandering, and an overall lessening of a sense of neighborhood. I believe that we should concentrate on a more realistic model. I do not have answers here other than possibly organizations grouped by communities such as Whitehaven, Cordova, Midtown, and such. However, I would that this Party would look at something other than rehashing those models from the 60's and earlier.

polar donkey said...

I seem to remember two or three months ago a few people talking about building community democratic groups in places like Frayser, Midtown, and other sections of the city. I'm pretty sure the idea was to use the party headquarters as place to help these groups get on their feet and network with each other. A funny thing happened though. The SCDP leadership didn't want this. Now, the only people that can use the party headquarters are SCDP committees. I sympathize with what Del is saying. Perhaps Del realizes that in the near term there will be little or no progress made on grassroots organization. (or maybe it is just wrong for Wharton to endorse a republican AG and Sheriff before any democrats even entered the race. By doing that Wharton assured that these guys run unopposed for re-election. Are unopposed elections good for democracy? No and that's why what Wharton did wasn't right.) Grassroots organization undermines existing power relations in the SCDP.

David Holt said...

As to Del's motion, I share his frustration with Democrats who support Republicans. It prevents good Democrats from even getting in those races. Why would you even run for DA when the top Democrat locally is endorsing your opponent? However, I think that it should be in the voters' hands to decide who is and who isn't a "bona fide Democrat." If they don't think someone is then they can defeat them in the primary. The local party preventing people from running is a power that could easily be abused in so many ways. As far as PolarDonkey's comment about the headquarters, I think the only thing that makes sense is to let Democratic groups use it. Why pay for an empty building? Although there are people against that, it's hardly the case that all of the "SCDP leadership" was against it. It wasn't even decided by the chair or steering committee. It was decided in the headquarters committee, and I voted to let people come in.

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