Politics » Politics Feature

Jobs to Let

The Tennessee Democratic Party, already shaken at the polls, now teeters in discord at the administrative level.



"The TNDP is now accepting applications for four positions: Executive Director, Deputy Fundraising Director, Data and Digital Manager, and Office Manager. To learn more about the jobs that are available and how you or someone you know can apply, simply click here."

Not since Private Bradley Manning's revelation after his conviction for violations of the Espionage Act that she was now named Chelsea Elizabeth Manning has a deadpan statement perched so precariously on the seam between real-world actuality and Onion-style parody as the foregoing announcement from the Tennessee Democratic Party, circulated by email press release on Monday.

Those who choose to simply click on the link, say, to the posted information on becoming the state party's executive director, will learn that a successful applicant will serve "as the chief strategic and tactical executive of the Tennessee Democratic Party," will "[w]ork ... with Communications Director and Chair to issue press releases, speak out on important issues, respond to attacks, and present the Democratic Party in a positive, professional light." And, in order to do this and a multitude of other things listed, said candidate should possess "[e]xcellent personal skills with the ability to build and maintain strong relationships."

You can say that again.

The last executive director of the Tennessee Democratic Party, a gentleman named Kevin Teets, took leave of his job on September 8th, a day after the party's Jackson Day Dinner in Nashville, an annual fund-raising affair which had drawn a large and lively crowd, boasted inspirational speeches from U.S. senator Tim Kaine of Virginia and other dignitaries (including Memphis' own Mayor A C Wharton), and raised some $340,000 for the party coffers.

Presiding over that affair was party chairman Roy Herron of Dresden, a former state senator who vacated his seat in 2010 to run for the 8th District congressional seat, losing to Republican Stephen Fincher in a GOP sweep year.

Herron appeared confident and at the top of his game as he moderated at the dinner, reprising the state Democratic Party's difficult electoral circumstances in 1970 and its resounding comeback in the middle of that decade and optimistically forecasting a similar return to glory for the currently diminished party in the next several years.

Anyone who had not been at the earlier meeting of the party's state executive committee — as, unfortunately, I had not been, having suffered a blowout of my right rear tire on the way up I-40 that Saturday morning — could not have imagined the fireworks that had preceded the gala evening event. Andy Sher of the Chattanooga Times-Free Press was there, and, in commenting on the "tumult" and "turmoil" of that meeting, had accurately predicted it would result in an extensive body count.

As indeed it did. In addition to Teets' departure, two members of the party's finance council resigned (though they kept their seats on the executive committee), and two other staffers — office manager Allison Jones and deputy finance director Cortnye Stone — followed Teets out the door.

So what happened? After all, despite his loss in the 2010 congressional race, Herron, a minister, lawyer, and sometime author, had always enjoyed great success as a politician, partly on the basis of what impressed observers as an easy-going charm, an almost Clintonesque ability to connect with individuals, and a top-of-the-chart work ethic.

Herron developed a reputation as a kind of Horatio-at-the-Gates, last-ditch defender against what he regarded as extremist Republican-sponsored legislation during the final days of legislative sessions.

By the time of his chairmanship, won in January of this year in a typically intense (for Tennessee Democrats) mano-a-mano contest with then party treasurer Dave Garrison, Herron had entered his 60s but was still early-to-rise, late-to-bed, and an inveterate marathon runner.

He was also regarded by members of the party's self-styled progressive faction as something of a conservative, a representative of a rural West Tennessee constituency who straddled ideological fault lines as best he could but fell short, for example, in his votes and rhetoric, of what assertive abortion-rights advocates expected.

Up against an obvious Republican tide in his 2010 congressional race, Herron hedged in his support for Barack Obama's agenda and said he would not necessarily vote to keep then Speaker Nancy Pelosi if elected.

Herron was confronted with these apparent apostasies by Garrison supporters in January but responded satisfactorily with endorsements of the president's policy and accommodating statements about the party's now prevailing pro-choice position, denouncing in his acceptance address the fact of "radical Republicans [telling] women whose lives are in danger during a pregnancy that they cannot save their own lives."

In general, Herron has, in the tradition of state Democratic chairs, made a point of unleashing animated attacks against the perceived misdeeds of the state's Republican spokespersons, most recently castigating a tweet by state lieutenant governor Ron Ramsey that suggested President Obama was trying to "ally with al-Qaeda" in Syria as "an outrageous, dishonest, misleading, incendiary, unpatriotic and dangerous attack."

But some of the pre-chairmanship skepticism toward the chairman remains — particularly, but not exclusively, among some of those who had previously supported Herron's opponent, Garrison. Other complaints voiced against the chairman at the stormy committee meeting on September 8th included allegations that he was micro-managing party affairs, indulging in short-sighted economies that in the long run would hamper party fund-raising and recruitment efforts, and overworking staffers.

During the January voting for chairman, Shelby County's 12 executive-committee members had gone for Herron by an 8-4 ratio. Gale Jones Carson of Memphis, the state party secretary and a Garrison voter back then, has no objections to Herron and professes to be somewhat mystified by the current fuss. "It seems to be something that's happening somewhere else besides West Tennessee, and we're just reading about it," she says.

Adrienne Pakis-Gillon, another Memphian and one who had been a staunch Herron advocate in the chairman's race, says she still supports Herron as the best possible bridge between rival Democratic Party factions and between sectional and ideological constituencies.

Bridges can indeed span over divides, but they can break, too, with potentially disastrous consequences, and it's hard to see how the current controversy over Herron's chairmanship serves the interests of a party that, in the aftermath of horrendous election results in 2008, 2010, and 2012, is virtually powerless in state government and seemingly cannot afford the luxury of discord.

Anyhow, it is what it is, and Herron, acting on a suggestion by an executive-committee member, has appointed a fact-finding group, including Dwayne Thompson of Memphis, to do exit interviews with the now departed staffers to get a sense of what went wrong and what could correct it.

Meanwhile, all those vacated party jobs are open. Any takers? Simply click on the link.

• Meanwhile, some pretend discord will be going on in Democratic Party ranks in Shelby County this weekend. Former Memphis mayor Willie Herenton will be the subject (honoree? victim?) of a $100-a-ticket fund-raising "roast" at Colonial Country Club in Cordova. Officiating at the affair will be former Shelby County circuit judge and longtime syndicated-TV judge Joe Brown, who will preside over what is billed as "an exceptional lineup of roasters."

The roasters' rhetoric surely won't be too brutal, inasmuch as the affair is subtitled "Celebrate the Legacy." And anyhow, former Golden Glover Herenton can give as good as he gets.

• Shelby County commissioner Wyatt Bunker, who ran on a pro-business-growth platform, handily won last week's Lakeland mayoral race, with 63 percent of the vote, defeating three-term incumbent Scott Carmichael and former mayor Jim Bomprezzi. Challengers Sherri Gallick and Clark W. Plunk upset incumbents Cecil Tompkins and Donald Barber in city commission races.

In Arlington, incumbent aldermen Oscar Brooks, Harry McKee, and Brian Thompson won reelection over Brian "Brian Elder" Groves, Joshua Fox, and Larry Harmon, respectively.

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