For the second time in the last several months the executive committee of the Shelby County Democratic Party has voted a formal censure of its own - this time against two members of the Tennessee General Assembly and a Shelby County Commissioner.
Censured by voice vote at a packed meeting of the SCDP committee at the IBEW Union Hall on Madison Thursday night were state Senator Reginald Tate, state Representative Joe Towns, and Commissioner Sidney Chism.
All-- along with the also censured party committee member Hazel Moore, an activist often described as the (unofficial) "mayor of Whitehaven" -- were accused of violating what the censure resolution called “existing protocols for bona fides, loyalty and political behavior.”
Chism was cited for efforts to dissuade Democratic Sheriff’s candidate Bennie Cobb from running against incumbent Sheriff Bill Oldham, a Republican, so as to allow Oldham “to be the only filed candidate of any party for the position.” Tate, Towns, and Hazel Moore were were censured for their presence “at a campaign opener and funds raising event” for Republican Jimmy Moore, the incumbent Circuit Court clerk.
Removed from the censure resolution, by agreement of the committee, was the Rev. Ralph White, a candidate for Criminal Court clerk who had also attended the event for Moore, a longtime former Democrat before changing his party affiliation in the ‘90s. White was excused because he had submitted a written apology for that action.
Committee member Del Gill, a Democratic primary candidate for the Circuit Court clerkship now held by Moore and a longtime advocate of strict party-loyalty requirements, was the prime mover in seeking the censure resolution and presented it to the committee membership Thursday night. Party chairman Bryan Carson is on record, however, as saying the party would not “tolerate” disloyalty in this this year’s elections and fully backed the resolution.
The censure resolution was in the same spirit of the one voted last year against County Commission chair James Harvey — who was cited in September for awarding chairmanship of the Commission’s key budget committee to Republican Commissioner Heidi Shafer. An unspoken premise of that censure was that Harvey, who was about to become Commission chair, had bargained with GOP members to achieve their support for chairman.
It is uncertain what effect the censure resolution will have on the party status of Tate, Towns, and Chism, although the censure resolution, in its final sentence, states, “The Democratic Party reserves the rights under Tennessee Election Codes to control who appears on its ballot.” Gill informs the Flyer that, in his words, "the party could declare these persons 'non bona fide' Democrats if further violations of party conduct are affirmed by the Executive Committee. They would then not be able to file a future petition for Democratic Party candidacy."
Harvey had filed this year for the office of Shelby County Mayor and was allowed to speak to the executive committee membership, along with three other mayoral candidates, at the committee’s February meeting. He withdrew his filing for County Mayor at last week’s deadline for withdrawal, although it is unclear as to whether his prior censure had any bearing on that decision.
Both Tate and Towns said, while in Nashville for the current legislative session this week, they had not been informed of the committee's intent to consider a censure motion Thursday night, and both were vehement that they had done nothing improper in attending the event for Moore, whom both said they had been friends with for many years.
In discussion of the censure resolution before Thursday night’s vote, no committee member spoke against it, and several chorused their approval of remarks by veteran Democrat TaJuan Stout-Mitchell that, by adopting it, the party would cease to be “a house divided.”
Though he did not speak publicly, state Representative Antonio Parkinson was in attendance and said he approved of the censure resolution naming two legislative colleagues as an expression of party “unity.”