Every 2 years, local Democrats get together and select new party leaders at a convention. The next convention is in April. Is anyone interested in stepping up and leading the local party?
I've heard that the local party has become irrelevant to local politics, partly because of its own past failings and partly because of the recent power surge of the GOP here and across the state. Maybe it has. I've been well out of the loop for awhile. But it's hard to imagine things could get much worse.
Democrats still have Randy Nichols at the DA's office, Harold Wimberly as a Circuit Court judge, Mary Beth Leibowitz as Criminal Court judge (and of course, Chancellor Daryl Fansler, as someone pointed out below). Well, but not for long. Each of those positions are up next year. Nichols is retiring after what will be 22 years as DA. I have no idea what Mary Beth, Harold, or Daryl plan to do next year. But it may not make much of a difference. The GOP wants all four offices and is salivating for 2014 to get here. And while there are plenty of Democrat lawyers out there who'd like to step into those positions, frankly, it's highly unlikely any Democrat can win a county-wide race next year. So, in the end, by September 2014, for the first time in over a century, there will be no Democrat holding a county-wide elected office in Knox County.
Still, Democrats held onto Harry Tindell's seat. Democrats are well-represented on city council and the mayor's office. But again, the biggest test of all awaits Democrats in the 2014 elections. Can they be competitive?
To be certain, Democrats cannot expect miracles over the next 10 years. No takeover of the Commission, no matter what its size. No retention or takeover of any of the county-wide seats, no matter how many scandals occur in the Trustee's office, etc. So, Democrats may have to think small, for now. Maybe Democrats can get another Democrat or 2 on Commission; or on the non-partisan City Council; or recruit a well-qualified, well-known lawyer with name-recognition, who's not afraid to run as a Democrat for District Attorney, or judge, notwithstanding the overwhelming odds. . . .
Getting good candidates to run for county-wide office as a Democrat will be extremely difficult in the coming years, to be sure. It starts with electing a capable chair of the party and an executive committee that will push that chair's agenda.
Make no mistake, there is some promise in the Democrats' future. There are young Democrats out there with great upsides who are the future of any resurgence of Democrats in Knox County: Leland Price at the DA's Office, lawyer Shelley Breeding (she can move in with us if she needs a Knox County address), one-time candidate and current consultant Cortney Piper and Mark Padgett (no matter what you might think of his first foray into politics as a candidate), to name just a few. That's a nice start for any chair. And there are plenty others.
But unlike the political landscape of yesteryear, when some Democrats (Nichols, Baumgartner, Padgett) could always depend upon some GOP support to carry county-wide races, that landscape has been replaced by a scortched-earth policy by the local and state GOP who know they're in control of the local and state legislatures, nearly all of the county-wide offices (the exceptions: Randy Nichols, who'll retire in 2014; and Judges Mary Beth Leibowitz and Harold Wimberly), and the Executive offices. Every seat in Knox County, no matter how safe it used to be, will be contested very hard over the next few years by the GOP.
For the next 6-8 years, the local Democratic Party needs a battle-hardened person to lead them, someone not only with a thick-skin, but also with the intellect, charisma, and mentality to make the GOP look bad whenever possible, all the while doing promoting a new crop of Democrat candidates.
What's more, when Democrats get together in April to select a new chair, they should look to the future, not to the past. The next chair should not be someone who seeks the position to run for office later, or someone who is being rewarded for past service to the party, but it should be someone who relishes the thought of advocating and defending Democratic Party ideals to anyone who'll listen, welcomes a street-fight or a one-on-one debate with Stacey Campfield, or whoever the GOP sticks in their face, and has the discipline and organizational skills to be effective at all of it.
The names above - Price, Breeding, Piper and Padgett - are four I can think of who might fit the bill. But they are also prospective candidates in coming years and that might eliminate them as chair prospects. So, who else is out there? A young military veteran would be great (but even an older military veteran might even work, e,g., someone like Don Nalls - what a great guy). A young lawyer (well, one with some sense) might work. As might a young aggressive assistant DA (who will likely be losing their gig next year and start private practice)?
Anyway, I just wanted to start a dialogue here to get some sort of public conversation going. Is it as bad as I portray it? Is it worse? Better? What are your thoughts?
And please refrain from bashing anyone who may have held the position in the past (or presently holds it) - whether it be Gloria Johnson, Sylvia woods, me, Jim Gray, Wade Till, etc. Each of us had our own accomplishments and, each of us had our own failings as chair, but a critique of any of those folks or of the past has little bearing on what's ahead, so I'd like to focus on 2013 and beyond and what you folks consider the reality of where Democrats in this county are today and where they might be headed in the foreseeable future.
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