Everybody knows the famous Will Rogers line: "I don't belong to an organized political party. I'm a Democrat." These days in Shelby County, that line could apply to both major parties, each of which has entertained moderate-to-major schisms over the last year or so. But it's the Democrats who truly excel at the art of factionalism.
How much better can you do than to hold a knockdown/drag-out local convention, as the local Democrats did three weekends ago, only to end up the day with the race for Shelby County party chair deadlocked at 20 votes apiece?
That was how it went down at Hamilton High School back on April 12th, when the tie-breaking voter, Marianne Wolff of Cordova, took ill halfway through the proceedings and had to go home. Wolff was a newly elected executive committee member pledged to support State Rep. Kathryn Bowers for chairman over current chair Gale Jones Carson; so her absence was crucial.
As the stalemate continued into late afternoon back then, Bowers supporters beseeched Wolff via cellphone to return, and eventually she did -- transported by her friend and Cordova neighbor, Nancy Kuhn, ironically enough a Carson supporter who had been defeated for a committee post by Wolff and who had taken Wolff home only hours earlier.
By the time of Wolff's return, however, the convention had adjourned and had not yet agreed on a date to reconvene.
In the interim between that standoff and the final resolution of a runoff date (May 12th, agreed to by both candidates and approved by the state Democratic Party), both sides made feverish efforts to convert executive committee members on the other side, and each side steadfastly tried to hold on to its own loyalists.
Wolff herself felt so besieged that she took to misleading people about her exact address and even the spelling of her name, presumably to limit the extent of the hot-boxing she could be subjected to.
Wolff's name appears (spelled correctly) along with the 20 other Bowers supporters in a letter sent to Carson and dated Monday of this week. The letter has two purposes, according to activist David Upton, a Bowers supporter who helped draft it: 1) to convince Carson that the handwriting is on the wall (actually, on the paper, with facsimiles of signatures for each of the signers, all standing firm for Bowers) on the issue of the chairmanship race; and 2) to dissuade Carson from going ahead with her plan to elect the new committee's other officers (sans chairman) this Thursday night.
The issue is that two Bowers supporters on the newly elected committee can't attend Thursday night's meeting and that Carson knew that, Upton said. Nonsense, says Carson, who maintains that all she's doing is following party bylaws to elect new officers on the first regular committee meeting after a convention. That would be Thursday night.
Ah, but that's the meeting night adopted by the former committee, not the one elected on April 12th, counters Upton -- to which Carson says, "We're going to follow the bylaws and vote Thursday. The Thursday night date was adopted by the party way back on December 5th, 1995."
The letter to Carson reads "it is our intention to have them [actions to elect new officers] rescinded on May 12th" if Carson oversees elections this Thursday. "This isn't about unity," said Carson. "This is about an effort by some to divide the party." Carson, who is secretary of the state Democratic Party, charged Upton in particular with using his position as a member of the state party executive committee to "mislead" local Democrats about the facts.
Sometime between Thursday night and the May 12th date which will see either the reelection of Carson (who isn't about to concede the outcome, signatures or no signatures) or of Bowers, things will presumably get resolved. Not organized, mind you; that would be entirely too un-Democratic.
Presidential candidates are beginning to turn up in these parts as the race for the Democratic nomination starts to get serious. Two principal Democratic contenders -- Missouri congressman Dick Gephardt and Massachusetts senator John Kerry -- have already checked in locally, and third -- Connecticut senator Joe Lieberman -- will be right behind.
Gephardt, a former candidate for the Democratic nomination (1988), was the beneficiary of a fundraiser held Sunday at the residence of Pat Kerr Tigrett. Lawyer David Cocke, a Yale classmate of Kerry's, did the honors for the Massachusetts senator at the Summit Club on Tuesday morning. And an effort on behalf of Lieberman, to be held early in May, is being planned by local Democrat Pace Cooper.
All three candidates were supporters of military efforts to depose Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, and each voted for a congressional war resolution to that effect. After his appearance here on Tuesday, Kerry said he hoped to appeal to the "common sense" of Southern Democrats. -- JB