Chip Shots: Who's Getting Ahead in Politics, and Who Isn't?

| December 02, 2008
Chip Forrester (left); Chip Saltsman
Chip Forrester (left); Chip Saltsman

Chip Forrester of Nashville, the longtime treasurer of the state Democratic Party and its former director, has been hobnobbing in Memphis this week with local members of the party's state executive committee. Forrester wants to be the successor to the luckless Gray Sasser, who signaled his intention to retire after an electoral season in which the GOP's John McCain easily won Tennessee's electoral votes and, more ominously, the Republicans took over both houses of the legislature.

The election of a new chairman will take place after next month's inauguration ceremonies. So far, Forrester has one opponent, Charles Robert Bone of Gallatin, who apparently has support from Sasser and assorted other members of the party establishment - most of whom were backers of Hillary Clinton during last year's contested Tennessee primary. For his part, Forrester was an early booster of Barack Obama and is running, as did the president-elect, on a platform of change.

(UPDATE: Forrester, who needs the votes of 37 committee members to become chairman, said Tuesday night he already had 38 lined up.)

  • Something about that name Chip. Another ambitious bearer of that name is former Memphis resident Chip Saltsman, now of Nashville. Saltsman, a former chairman of the state Republican Party, more recently managed the presidential campaign of former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, whose maverick candidacy came very near to taking off after his win in the Iowa caucuses earlier this year.

    Saltsman is still aiming high. Now he aspires to chair the national Republican Party, and, to that end, has answered a cattle call from two conservative GOP-friendly groups, Americans for Tax Reform and the American Conservative Union, who have summoned Saltsman and other chairmanship aspirants to Washington this week for a three-day series of meetings.

    Among others planning to show up and be vetted will be South Carolina Republican Party chairman Katon Dawson, Michigan GOP chairman Saul Anuzis, and former Maryland lieutenant governor Michael Steele.

  • Tre Hargett of Memphis, the former Republican leader in the state House of Representatives, never commanded a majority in the state House, as will state Rep. Jason Mumpower of Bristol, who was named this week by his fellow Republicans to be their majority leader - a position that will almost certainly become that of Speaker when the General Assembly convenes in January.

    But, according to informed sources in Nashville, Hargett has a better than even chance of replacing Riley Darnell as Secretary of State when the two chambers of the legislature meet in January to elect someone for that position, as well as for two other state constitutional offices, those of comptroller and treasurer.

    These positions, elected by simple majority of the full Assembly, have been held by de facto Democratic appointees for generations, but Republicans now hold a five-vote edge in the state Senate and a one-vote margin in the House. That six-point majority insures that the GOP will fill all three positions.

    Hargett's chief competition for the job, which pays $180,000 annually, is former state Senator Jim Bryson of Brentwood, who was prevailed on by his fellow Republicans to run as a sacrificial-lamb candidate for governor in 2006 against incumbent Democrat Phil Bredesen. To do so, Bryson had to give up his safe Senate seat, and can collect at least some votes on an I.O.U. basis.

    One candidate who fell by the wayside in the Secretary of State race is outgoing state Senator Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville, whose narrow primary victory over fellow Democrat Tim Barnes was nullified by the state Democratic committee, ostensibly on grounds of voting irregularities but actually, many observers think, as punishment for her decisive vote in 2007 to make Republican Ron Ramsey of Blountville the Senate speaker and lieutenant governor.

    Ramsey's choice for Secretary of State had been Kurita, who conducted an unsuccessful write-in campaign with GOP support and donated to Republican Party coffers in the general election, but she withdrew from consideration after failing to garner enough support elsewhere.

  • "The issue is dead for now. It would take a Hail Mary pass, and I don't see that happening." That was the assessment as the week began of city councilman Jim Strickland, the original sponsor this year of a resolution to liberalize residency requirements for Memphis police.

    The issue, eventually presented in modified form by councilman Reid Hedgepeth, was defeated two weeks ago by a 7-6 margin, with the council's blacks voted against it and the whites voting for it. Vigorous efforts by proponents to bring about a change of mind, culminating in compromise proposals last week and a make-nice collective church attendance by the full council on Sunday, came to naught.
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