When Shelby County Republicans got together for the biannual party convention Sunday, March 24, in Bartlett, local party chairman Justin Joy counseled patience.
“There will probably be some moments when this will not appear to be a well-rehearsed wedding,” Joy said.
Five hours later when the convention was finally winding down, Joy conceded that it went longer than even he thought it would.
Joy was re-elected party chairman without opposition. But contenders from the local tea party movement as well as some libertarians continued the process of trying to become part of the local party’s leadership.
The effort began at the 2011 party convention with a few seats the loose coalition garnered on the local Republican Party’s steering committee.
Two years later, the group returned with a slate of candidates for five positions just under the chairman.
There were some credentials flaps that went to state party leaders in Nashville with some of the delegates chosen at party caucuses earlier this month unseated because they hadn’t voted in two of the last four Republican primaries or weren’t registered to vote in the convention districts they ran for.
It was the vote count for the contested party offices among a group of 267 voting delegates that took the convention into Sunday evening. When the votes were counted only Lynn Moss of the tea party-libertarian slate had managed to unseat Dee Nollner as third vice chairman of the party.
The other three contenders for officer positions lost.
Joy called for the local party to broaden its base and focus more on grassroots organization at the ward and precinct level despite the Republican Party’s dominance statewide.
“We have a lot of work to do,” he said after he was re-elected to a one-year term by acclamation. “We are one of the few places where the Democratic Party still exists.”
While Republicans swept the nine countywide offices on the 2010 county general election ballot, Democrats took two of the three countywide offices on the 2012 county general election ballot. In 2014, the once-every-eight-year “big ballot” of county and state offices combined with nonpartisan judicial offices are on the ballot.
“This past fall, we saw that grassroots still wins elections,” Joy added. “Here in Shelby County, we’ve got to do better.”
The divide between the existing party leadership and the newcomers seeking inroads into the party was most often a difference between a focus on winning elections at the local level and ideological issues that are national in scope.
“I’m tired of being conservative,” offered Ebben Raves, who was the newcomer ticket’s candidate for second vice chairman, as he talked of the party taking the offense on issues and compromising less. “That is like asking how much poison you want in your drink. Do we want to drink from the chalice of what this country was founded on?”
Arnold Weiner, who won the race for second vice chairman, emphasized his work in local campaigns for local and statewide Republican candidates.
“I have walked the walk in this party, not talked the talk,” Weiner said.
Moss, who beat Nollner, complained of a “steady undermining of our lives by an overreaching government.” But she also stressed her work holding signs on street corners and phone banking for candidates.
Sam Cooper, in the race for fourth vice chairman, termed himself a “strong supporter of the U.S. Constitution” and emphasized Second Amendment rights to bear arms.
But Cooper lost to Mick Wright, who announced the start of an effort to recall Shelby County Commission Chairman Mike Ritz by waving around a box of Ritz crackers as he linked him to the countywide sales tax hike voted down last year by voters and the expected countywide property tax hike as well as the County Commission’s role in the schools merger lawsuit.
“This community is in trouble because of Ritz,” Wright added, getting the biggest ovation of the day from the convention. Ritz was not present.
Incumbent party treasurer John Niven came at the issue head on.
“The tea party is not the enemy of the Republican Party and the Republican Party is not the enemy of the tea party,” Niven said. “The enemy is liberalism, progressivism and socialism.”
It was Niven’s way of countering challenger Russell Seigfried, a certified public accountant, who spent much of his pitch to the convention talking about county government finances.
“I think I can offer a little bit more than just keeping the books,” Seigfried said.
Vice treasurer Kim Perry, who managed Amy Weirich’s successful campaign for Shelby County district attorney general in 2012, also highlighted her role working in campaigns.
“If you don’t already know me, it’s because you haven’t been around enough,” she said.
Local Democrats hold their biannual party convention Saturday, April 6, with Shelby County Party Chairman Van Turner not seeking another term.