Sunday, February 8, 2009

In A Cold Gray Winter, Glimmerings of Hope for the TNDP

After years of losing ground across the state, and after suffering a crushing defeat of historic proportions in the November general election, it seemed that the Tennessee Democratic Party (TNDP) was headed for a bitter winter of discontent in January of 2009.  Worse yet, there was no sign of a 'son of York' to brighten the long dark winter ahead.  Then, surprisingly, in the midst of one of the coldest, grayest winters in decades, hope for Tennessee Democrats flickered from at least four different directions in the bleak winter of 2008-2009:

1. In a Byzantine coup d’├ętat, Tennessee House Democrats succeeded in electing a rogue Republican (St. Rep. Kent Williams) to the position of Speaker of the House. This in spite of the fact that Republicans had just won control of the TN House for the first time since Reconstruction and in spite of the fact that the Republicans had settled on their leader, ultra-conservative St. Rep. Jason Mumpower, to become the new Speaker. It was no doubt a back-room political deal of the 19th century kind, but it showed that all 49 House Democrats working with only one off-the-reservation Republican could still wield real political power in Nashville. It was an ice-cold shower for TN Republicans... and it got the TNDP out of the  political intensive  care unit.

2. The defeat, by a large margin, of the English-only amendment to the Nashville city charter. Supported by a wide range of Democratic elected officials, religious organizations, business groups and progressives of all stripes, the anti-English-only campaign crushed the far-right effort to make English the only language used in Music City government. Although credit for this progressive victory truly belongs to many people, the lion's share of the praise goes to Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and - most especially - to long-time Democratic Party organizer, Jim Hester. Many Democrats, and probably most progressives, thought the effort to stop the English-only madness would be nearly impossible. Instead, a broad coalition of Nashville groups, under the masterful leadership of Mr. Hester, made it look easy.

3. The election of Chip Forrester as Chair of the Tennessee Democratic Party. Although he was a long-time member of the Democratic Party establishment, Mr. Forrester's run for Party Chair was accompanied by an acknowledgment of the Party's failures and a sincere effort to reach out to all of the Party's base. He travelled the state to seek support from all elements of the TNDP and made numerous pledges to take the fight into enemy (Republican) territory. Chip's vigorous and inclusive campaign quickly garnered the necessary votes to assure him of election to the the post of Party Chair. Bizarrely, only after he had wrapped up the election, did many elected Democratic officials announce their discomfort with Chip and threw their support to another candidate.  It was totally strange, especially since the reasons offered by establishment Democrats for opposing Forrester were weak at best. Maybe it's one of those Paul Harvey 'page two' kinda of things - you know, 'the rest of the story'. Maybe in time we will find out the true reason(s) for their dislike of Forrester, but no statements yet made in public sufficiently explain the top Dems opposition to Forrester. We hope they'll get over their resistance to the new Party Chair and move on.

4. The announcement by State Senator Andy Berke (D-Chattanooga) that he is considering a run for Governor in 2010. Sen. Berke is one of the most able and appealing elected officials in the state.  A gubernatorial run by him would give the Democratic Party the chance to nominate a candidate for governor who could connect with all segments of the TNDP.  Berke would, in our opinion, stand a very good chance of winning the state house. A potential Berke for Governor campaign could well be the brightest hope Tennessee Democrats have seen in a period where we've already gotten more than our share of good news. Run Andy run!

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