VOL. 129 | NO. 156 | Tuesday, August 12, 2014
Democratic Chairman Apologizes as Party Parses Defeats
By Bill Dries
Democrats don’t consider it a successful campaign season unless there is some kind of intra-party dust up, the political axiom goes.
That conventional political wisdom loses its validity the more Republicans win, and it suggests that when the differences within the party aren’t mended by a Democratic victory, a bigger skirmish is likely on the horizon.
After two disastrous county general elections for Democrats in four years – four eagerly anticipated years in which party leaders looked forward to having the majority of voters countywide – the post-election day rhetoric within the party suggests settling the differences could take a while. And whether the differences are judged to be settled will depend greatly on what the election results look like in four more years.
By virtue of the county charter’s term limit of no more than two consecutive terms, the 2018 races for Shelby County mayor, sheriff, trustee, property assessor and register will not include incumbents seeking re-election.
Meanwhile, the first post-election apology came Saturday morning from Shelby County Democratic Party Chairman Bryan Carson.
The day after Thursday’s election in which Democratic nominees again lost every countywide race except assessor, Carson commented to News Channel 3 on Democratic crossover for Republican candidates in the general election: “I wish those Democrats would go ahead and just sign up and be Republicans. Go ahead and join the party because we don’t need you. You don’t support us.”
Carson said Saturday those were “at the moment feelings” that he apologized for.
“I have been very proud to state that the Democratic Party is a big tent party that welcomes everyone regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation,” Carson added in the written statement. “That boast should also include having an open mind to those Democrats who don’t necessarily agree with all of the Democratic candidates on the ballot during an election.”
Four years ago, Democratic contenders for the same offices, except assessor and district attorney general, campaigned as a single ticket or slate as has rarely been seen before in a county election. The premise for the unity was the belief by Democrats, and Republicans as well, that Shelby County’s voting base had become majority Democratic.
There were concerns then that the entire slate could be brought down by Democratic contenders who could win a primary with a 10 to 15 percent turnout but were doubtful at best to win a general election with just a 25 percent turnout.
But some in the party publicly urged those Democrats who had problems with individual candidates on the slate to “hold your nose.”
Even Republicans didn’t expect their sweep of every countywide office that followed.
This time around, there was some of the same rhetoric among Democrats.
Coleman Thompson, a three-time Democratic nominee for register who has now lost to incumbent Republican Tom Leatherwood each time, acknowledged some Democrats didn’t want him to run. But he urged them to just keep their mouths shut.
The party’s executive committee also began a controversial move to enforce party loyalty starting with some Democrats who attended a fundraiser for incumbent Republican Circuit Court Clerk Jimmy Moore. That included former local party chairman and County Commissioner Sidney Chism, who also supported incumbent Republican Sheriff Bill Oldham over Democratic challenger Bennie Cobb.
Former party chairman Van Turner sent a letter of apology to the party for attending a fundraiser for incumbent Republican Trustee David Lenoir and headed off a possible sanction by the local party in his County Commission race.
The loyalty crackdown was then extended to the party’s endorsements of candidates in the nonpartisan judicial races on the ballot.
Both local parties endorsed a slate of candidates in the election, but the Democratic Party’s screening process by a subcommittee was much more rigid in assigning party labels to the contenders. And no one was considered an independent by those standards – everyone was either a Democrat or a Republican.
The lack of any middle ground even brought a plea by former Criminal Court Judge Joe Brown, the Democratic nominee for district attorney general, for the executive committee to make an exception and endorse Criminal Court Judge James Beasley, who was running unopposed.
But Brown wasn’t on the executive committee and had no vote in the matter, and no one on the committee wanted to season the slate with some unopposed incumbents.
The party splintered further on the judicial endorsements with a flood of endorsement ballots bearing the word Democratic in the names of various organizations putting them out and offering different endorsements than those approved by the party’s executive committee.