WHAT COMES NEXT
First things first: The parties must decide who they are -- and who will lead them.
Earlier this month, the Republicans won what in some circles was an unexpected victory, but their pre-eminence at the national level -- by the most modest of majorities in Congress -- will be tested again in two years, when there will be a presidential election and new congressional and gubernatorial races.
At state and local levels, meanwhile, neither Republicans nor Democrats have a clear edge.
Statewide: The Democrats won the governors race, but their candidate, Gov.-elect Phil Bredesen
, ran as a centrist and won that way. Consequently, hell have no particular mandate, and certainly not one with strong partisan overtones. Both branches of the legislature will almost certainly be under Democratic control again -- with a newly renominated Jimmy Naifeh
in the House and John Wilder
in the Senate holding the reins.
But octogenarian Wilder of Somerville -- dependent on a bipartisan coalition and notoriously reluctant to commit on controversial issues like that of a state income tax (which is probably a non-issue now) -- straddles the party line. And Naifeh of Covington, whose pro-income tax forces fell short in the last session and who will have a slimmer majority in the new one, will presumably have to tread more cautiously.
Naifeh won his partys nod for another Speakership term over the weekend in Nashville, but dissident Democrats who preferred Rep. Frank Buck
of Dowelltown may team up with GOP members to trim Naifehs sails on procedural questions. Memphis state rep Kathryn Bowers
, newly elected as the majority Democrats party whip, is feisty and determined on policy issues, but she, too (as a onetime supporter of GOP Senator Fred Thompson
) is used to making common cause with Republicans.
State senator Lincoln Davis
of Pall Mall, a Democrat, has been elected to the 4th District congressional seat currently held by Van Hilleary
, the Republicans defeated gubernatorial candidate. That gives the Democrats a technical 5-4 majority of the state delegation, but Davis is about as conservative as a Democrat can be and will undoubtedly line up with moderate and conservative Democrats in a Blue Dog coalition that already includes the 8th Districts John Tanner
and the 9th Districts Harold Ford Jr
All things considered, neither party can be said to have an edge on the other in state political affairs.
At the local level
: In Shelby County, same kind of tenuous balance prevails. Democrat A C Wharton
won the mayors race, but with support from every point on the political spectrum. Never much of a political partisan and without discernible commitment to local Democratic Party affairs, Wharton is virtually a non-party mayor, a functional independent.
Republicans swept the other constitutional county offices, but the strongest partisans among them -- Probate Court clerk Chris Thomas
and county register Tom Leatherwood
-- hold positions that are virtually non-political. Many of the other county officers are Republicans only nominally -- the party label having simply provided their best chance at getting nominated and elected.
The current Shelby County Commission is dominated by Republicans in the same 7-6 ratio as before, but political partisanship per se will be relatively unimportant on a body that has seen bipartisan coalitions flourish on the key issues of zoning and growth policy.
In any case, the countys demographics will continue to shade in the direction of black, predominantly Democratic voters over the next few years, and the partisan edge will shift accordingly.
In city politics black, Democratic voters have a clear edge, but city government is formally non-partisan, and, in fact, partisan politics plays no role in the affairs and votes of the city council. Mayor-for-life Willie Herenton
is nominally a Democrat, but the important of that party label for him was best indicated by his support of victorious Republican Lamar Alexander
for the U.S. Senate.
: Both local parties will elect new officers next year. The Republicans, who will hold reorganization caucuses in January and a party convention in February, go first.
So far, five candidates -- Kemp Conrad, Nancye Hines, Bob Pitman, Arnold Weiner
, and Ray Butler
-- have announced for GOP chairman, and a sixth, Rick Rout
, son of former county mayor Jim Rout
, has not announced his decision about staying in the race after falling into disfavor with the party steering committee.. Some weeks ago, a majority voted to seek Routs resignation from the committee on grounds of his publicly expressed disavowal of last summers nominee for county mayor, Dr. George Flinn
Conrad would seem clearly to be the candidate to beat. First out of the box with his organizational efforts, the 29-year-old businessman played host to a crowded meeting of supporters Monday night. His declared backer include a virtual Whos Who of party luminaries -- including seven former party chairmen and a number of currently serving public officials.
Moreover, there is some spread to Conrads base -- with supporters ranging from social conservatives like Wayne West
to moderates like Annabel Woodall
and Bill Gibbons
. Conrad made a point of supporting Flinn when others were reticent, but his primary recent activity was on behalf of Alexander and legislative candidate John Pellicciotti
, who came close to unseating longtime Democratic state rep Mike Kernell
Conrad has also been prominent in an official party outreach effort to recruit African Americans and Hispanics to the Republican Party. Its the future of the party were talking about here. Its about where were going, Conrad said this week. Our theme for the campaign will be reconnecting and reaching out, The party is very fractured rigtht now. Its an urban county we live in. And, as everybody knows, our demographics are changing.
As they mount their own campaigns, Conrads opponents -- most of them identified with conservative constituencies -- will have a chance to express their own points of view.
Local Democrats dont elect new officers and a new executive committee until April, and no definite chairmanship candidates have emerged yet, though current chairman Gale Jones Carson
, is presumed interested in running again.
She may or may not draw some determined opposition, depending on the degree to which opposing Democrats identify her with Mayor Herenton, whom she serves as administrative aide, or former chairman Sidney Chism
, a Herenton intimate who vigorously supported her chairmanship efforts during two previous campaigns, including the one last year, when she was elected without much difficulty.
Though Carson proved adroit in walking through the minefield caused by Herentons overt support of the GOPs Alexander, some Democrats blame her for the partys record in the summers county election, when no Democrat won but Wharton -- whose campaign was more or less separate from the partys overall effort.
And Chism angered several Democratic legislators, who felt he supported their primary opponents (something which the former chairman has denied). Lets put it this way, said Democratic executive member Steve Steffens
, who publicly denounced Herenton as a traitor after the November 5th election., If Sidney got to be the candidate himself, that would be something which Id have to try to prevent. So would the legislators
Steffens was noncommittal about Carson but predicted, I doubt shell have a free ride.