» Subscribe Today!
More of what you want to know.
The Daily News

Forgot your password?
TDN Services
Research millions of people and properties [+]
Monitor any person, property or company [+]

Skip Navigation LinksHome >
VOL. 132 | NO. 133 | Thursday, July 6, 2017

Local Democrats Set Reorganization Convention

By Bill Dries

Print | Front Page | Email this story | Email reporter | Comments ()

Attorneys David Cocke and Carlissa Shaw were co-chairs of the effort to reorganize the Shelby County Democratic Party that will get underway at a July 22 countywide convention. (Daily News/Bill Dries)

Shelby County Democrats will start the reorganization of the local political party July 22 at a countywide convention that will dramatically change its structure to a pair of groups totaling around 130 people.

“This has been a long time coming,” said attorney and former local party chairman David Cocke. He and attorney Carlissa Shaw were co-chairs of the reorganization committee appointed by the Tennessee Democratic Party following the state party’s decision last August to dissolve the local party’s charter.

“I know there has been a lot of speculation about why it has taken quite so long. But we were given the instructions to try to do it as quickly as we could, but to do it right,” Cocke said. “We’ve come up with kind of a unique way of organizing the party. But it’s designed for an activist party, not a party that just meets once a month and gets in trouble.”

The party’s charter was dissolved last August after years of dysfunction on the local executive committee capped by a dispute over Bryan Carson’s finances during his tenure as chairman.

Despite having no local political party, Democrats carried Shelby County in the November presidential general election for nominee Hillary Clinton as Republican nominee and president Donald Trump carried the entire state and took its 11 electoral votes.

Shaw, who was on the old executive committee and found its dysfunction frustrating, said the goal of the larger party is to involve more millennials like herself who are “interested in activism.”

“We don’t really like the meetings. We don’t like the business. We don’t like the Robert’s Rules of Order,” she said. “We want to hit the pavement. We want to knock on doors. We want to make sure Democrats in Shelby County are elected. We have causes. We have issues that we want heard.”

Dave Cambron, who was also on the local executive committee and party vice chairman at one point, was also part of the reorganization group.

“Over the last few years there’s been a lot of people saying, ‘I‘ve tried to get elected and I am shut out. I come to the meetings. I’m shut out. It turns me off. I’m not going to come,’” he said. “We all know the world changed on Nov. 8. There’s a lot of people who got active. So we designed this new party to include the new activists.”

The enthusiasm is something that Democrats focused on winning elections want to capitalize on.

Although Clinton carried Shelby County in November with 61 percent of the vote – her vote total was nearly 24,000 lower than Barack Obama’s Shelby County total in the 2012 general election and nearly 45,000 lower than Obama’s local total in 2008.

The convention July 22 will elect a Democratic Grassroots Council of around 130 people divided up by the 13 Shelby County Commission districts. Then the caucus by county commission districts will select two of those grassroots council members – one man and one woman – for positions on the new 26-member executive committee.

The grassroots council will have five members per county commission district for a subtotal of 65 members. Each commission district also will be represented by seven to 15 more people on the grassroots council, with that number determined by the turnout in each district in the last Democratic primary for governor.

The party will also have five ex officio positions on the executive committee and grassroots council – one each from the organizations Young Democrats, College Democrats and Democratic Women – and two will be local Democratic state legislators and elected officials.

The full grassroots council will meet two to three weeks after the July 22 convention to elect a new local party chairman.

The executive committee will meet monthly. The grassroots council will meet quarterly.

The council is seen as a way of bringing together Democrats, both those whose primary goal is to elect as many Democratic nominees as possible, and those who say the issues come first.

The reorganization group heard from activists energized since the November presidential election who are, in many cases, new to political involvement. But they expressed misgivings about the pursuit of electoral wins at the expense of issues.

“The main reason we have a party is to get Democrats elected to circle around certain core issues and values and work together,” Cocke said. “That means sometimes we have a bigger tent than we are comfortable with, but nonetheless we need a big tent because we need to win. Not everybody is in it just for the organization and hopefully not everybody’s in it just to get elected. This is the tension the party has to deal with.”

The dominant issue in public meetings that kicked off the reorganization process this spring was about who is a “bona fide Democrat.” The former executive committee took a hard line on the definition, censuring Democrats who supported Republicans over Democratic nominees for countywide office that, with the exception of Democratic Property Assessor Cheyenne Johnson and General Sessions Court Clerk Ed Stanton, have lost in every other countywide race in the last seven years.

The local party’s new bylaws use the state party’s definition of a bona fide Democrat as: “an individual whose record of public service, actions, accomplishment, public writings and/or public statements affirmatively demonstrate that he or she is faithful to the interests, welfare, and success of the Democratic Party of the United States and of the state of Tennessee. The State Party or a county party may make exceptions to this rule for requesting individuals in the spirit of an inclusive and a growing Party.”

Shelby County Young Democrats president Danielle Inez, who was also part of the reorganization committee, said that means more than the traditional measure of looking at which primaries someone has voted in.

“We’ll also be looking at a demonstration of their values,” she said. “It’s 2017. We can go on social media. We can see their Tweets. We can see their Facebook posts. We can see their organizations that they are engaged in in the community. We can see where they’ve donated their dollars, whose fundraising committees they’ve served on.”

Cocke said it’s a process that will not be resolved overnight.

“We do think that if you are going to take a leadership position in the Democratic Party you have to be loyal to the party; you have to be loyal to the brand,” he added. “But on the other hand, we’ve got to be open to a broader tent if we are going to win.”

PROPERTY SALES 36 154 6,546
MORTGAGES 34 94 4,129
BUILDING PERMITS 201 554 15,915
BANKRUPTCIES 43 126 3,396