The run-up to the statewide election of 2010 may have been, in retrospect, the first time the seismic shift in Tennessee from Democratic to Republican dominance became obvious.
Then-Governor Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, had served for the maximum two terms and was about to vacate the office. The Democratic field that year was full of worthies, as you would expect with an open seat. So was the Republican field.
There had been ample harbingers of the shift to come. In 2007, the venerable John Wilder, a nominal Democrat, had lost his speakership in the state Senate to the GOP's Ron Ramsey, and a year later, the Republicans had captured a one-vote majority in the House.
- Jackson Baker
- Zach Wamp
The changeover accelerated during the 2010 governor's race, as the Democratic candidates, noticing a diminishing lack of enthusiasm for their cause, began dropping out one by one. Memphian Jim Kyle, then-leader of the state Senate Democrats and now a Shelby County Chancellor, commented at the time, "I kept looking for Yellow Dog [committed] Democrats, and kept finding Yellow Dog Republicans."
The race came down to three Republicans in the end — Ramsey, Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, and Chattanooga Congressman Zach Wamp.
Haslam, regarded as the more moderate of the three, won, and Wamp, who waged a credible race as an Everyman-styled conservative, finished second. The Chattanoogan's subsequent political history is, by the standards of Tennessee politics, somewhat unusual. Still regarding himself as a conservative and a Republican, he has been at pains to present himself as a "post-partisan truth-teller."
Which means that Wamp and his son Weston, who has made efforts to establish a political career of his own, have regarded themselves as free to publicly criticize Donald J. Trump.
Wamp has of late been actively tweeting in favor of acceptance of the presidential election results — an act surely unique enough among Republicans to merit special mention.
A recent Wamp tweet, rebutting the no-surrender Trumpians: "What? Common [c'mon?] guys. Truth matters. Get real. Quit making stuff up and misleading people. Conservatives must stand for truth. #CountryOverParty."
Another one, directed at current national GOP chair Ronna McDaniel, a vocal defender of the Trump holdout: "I was working my butt off to elect conservatives before you were a grown-up. Today I am ashamed of your service as Chair of the RNC. Time for you and your ilk to go. Truth matters. Your lies hurt our cause."
And yet another: "The National Council on Election Integrity is spending $2 million on an ad urging a transition. On the board of this org: @GOP like Michael Chertoff, Dan Coats, Bill Frist, @BillHaslam and @zachwamp. Get to Work."
Meanwhile, as was noted here last week, Tennessee's outgoing U.S. Senator, Lamar Alexander, is — however circumspectly — advocating for acceptance of the election results and the need for an effective transition. In a recent interview with the Tennessee Journal, Alexander cautioned: "What we have to watch for is that what happened to the one-party Democratic Party doesn't happen to the one-party Republican Party. ... Middle Tennessee was grabbing all the power and leaving East Tennessee and Memphis out. ... And now we've gone full circle, where we have a one-party system, which again is starting to concentrate power in Middle Tennessee. ... We Republicans have to watch out for being self-satisfied, not broad enough in our thinking. We don't want to develop the flaws the Democratic Party started to develop in the 1960s."
Meanwhile, the aforesaid Democratic Party will be looking for new leadership as of January, as Mary Mancini, who has headed the state party for the last six years, is stepping down. Potential successors are beginning to emerge, and more of that anon.
Under Mancini's guidance, Democrats were able to increase the number of competitive races, including several in Shelby County. One of their winners, new District 96 state Representative Torrey Harris, replaced former Rep. John DeBerry, who was disallowed as a Democratic candidate by the state party and forced to run as an independent. DeBerry has been compensated for his pain by receiving a new job — annual pay, $165,000 — as an assistant to GOP Governor Bill Lee. That's outreach and then some!