Oct 22 2014

The November Election Post I’ve Been Meaning To Write

Posted by Steve Ross in elections, State Politics

Wedding Night After Party

Wedding Night After Party

Election day is right around the corner, and I’ve been meaning to do a post on all of the Constitutional amendments that are on the ballot this November…but I’ve been a little busy.

After 5 years together, my beloved Ellyn and I got hitched back on October 11th. Needless to say, the wedding plans took a lot of time to put together.

But now that the wedding is over, and so is the planning, I’ve got a little more time to think about the upcoming election…and especially the amendments.

They’re not that complicated, but they’re also not as easy to sift through as you might think.

With that in mind, I’m going to touch on the amendments in this post. I may write about the state and federal races later, and I’m working on a post about the City’s “Civil Service” referendum as we speak.

A note on Constitutional Amendments in Tennessee

For a constitutional amendment to pass in Tennessee, two things must happen:

1. The “yes” votes for the amendment must make up the majority.
2. Those “yes” votes must be greater than 50% of all the votes cast for Governor.

So, if you want something to pass, vote for someone on the ballot (write-ins don’t count) in the gubernatorial election.

And, if you want something to fail, you sure as hell better raise that bar a little higher by voting in the Governor’s race (again, write-ins don’t count).

I fully expect a TV station or two somewhere in the state will declare something having passed when it hasn’t crossed these two thresholds, but I’ll wait until election night to mock them for that.

Without further ado, here’s the breakdown.

Amendment 1 – Removing your right to privacy

Some people call Amendment 1 “The Abortion Amendment”, and if you just read the caption on the ballot, you might think you’re right.

But since the US Supreme Court ruled on Roe vs. Wade in 1973, the issue of government intervention in difficult health decisions been about privacy.

I’ve written about this extensively in the past.

The caption for Amendment 1 says:

Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion. The people retain the right through their elected state representatives and state senators to enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother.

But the idea of the right to privacy in health decisions, and abortion, which is a medical procedure, are inextricably linked.

That’s what the TNSCOTUS ruled in 2000.

So, to make a medical procedure potentially “illegal”, which is what the majority of the TN legislature wants, is to take away the privacy in medical decisions away from patients.

The married couple agrees...Vote No on 1

The married couple agrees
Vote No on 1

The Legislature can’t do this on their own…they need you, the voter, to eschew the additional privacy protections inherent in the Tennessee Constitution, so they can then further limit your choices on your medical decisions.

If you think this will stop at abortion, you’re sadly mistaken. The legislature could use this amendment to regulate any number of widely accepted medical procedures under the guise that they have effectively restricted privacy with this amendment.

Its ironic really. The political right consistently rails against government intervention in personal decisions…until it comes to medical decisions, then they don’t think you’re qualified to do it on your own.

If one were to be consistent, they would strike down this amendment with an overwhelming majority…because none of us want Ron Ramsey, or Brian Kelsey making medical decisions for us.

They’ve already proven time and time again they don’t have our best interests at heart.

I urge you to vote NO on Amendment 1.

Amendment 2 – Judicial Disco

Judicial retention (for Appellate and Supreme Court justices) has been a big topic in State politics for a while now. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s effort to remove TN SCOTUS judges in the August election was just the start of a fight that’s been boiling over since Ramsey took the top spot in the State Senate.

Amendment 2 seeks to clarify it all…and enshrine a system similar to the current system in the State Constitution. However, the differences have many folks up at arms.

Currently, a nominating commission makes recommendations to the Governor, who then selects from a paired down field of candidates. That Commission expired in 2013, and wasn’t renewed.

Under the amendment, there would be no mandated commission (though Haslam has said he approves of the commission), and the General Assembly would have veto power over the selection by the Governor. In a state where a simple majority can overturn the Governor already, that’s a lot of political power over the judiciary from the legislative branch.

Opponents of the amendment say to vote no, because the current system, without the added step of the legislature approving of the nominations works, and we shouldn’t bend to the legislature just because they scare the be-jesus out of us.

Supporters I’ve heard from don’t really seem to support the amendment, per se, but say its better than direct election of Appellate judges (which would be a disaster by any measure). They fear that could happen if the Constitutional Amendment isn’t passed.

Opponents counter that even the most radical on both sides of the aisle don’t want that, and bills seeking to make that the law of the land consistently fail in committee.

To be honest with you, I’m still torn. But as a person who: a. doesn’t take kindly to bullies, and b. is ready to take out my policy brass knuckles at the drop of a hat to beat down really dumb ideas from Nashville (there is an ample supply), I’m inclined to vote No.

When someone’s being a bully you don’t bend to them, you turn around and kick their ass so they’ll leave you alone. That’s what needs to happen here.

Amendment 3 – Tennessee Tax Dystopia

Unlike Amendment 2, Amendment 3 is simple. If you want your sales tax to start bumping up to 14%…vote for it.

If you don’t, vote against it.

Tennessee already has one of the highest sales tax rates in the nation.

The Legislature, with the help of the Haslam administration, has been cutting taxes on the wealthiest of the wealthy. As things get more expensive, and we keep underfunding every damn thing we have to fund…that revenue will have to be replaced somewhere…and the sales tax is the only place to go.

Sponsors of this Amendment, like Brian Kelsey of Germantown will say this saves the state from the tax hell of having an income tax…and by virtue, stops taxes from increasing.

But as anyone with half a brain in their head knows, the absence of a kind of tax doesn’t stop taxes in general from increasing. Come on dude…really?

Vote NO on Amendment 3.

Amendment 4 – Veteran’s Bingo “Gaming”

Amendment 4 is an effort to include Veteran’s organizations in the “games of chance” carveout that was enshrined in the lottery.

Currently, many not-for-profit organizations can hold fundraisers that involve games of chance (gambling, cakewalks, etc. but not bingo)…but Veteran’s groups can’t.

The reason goes back to a scandal in the 1980’s.

The amendment lays out some high hurdles for Veteran’s groups to be able to do this…and that’s actually my problem with the Constitutional amendment.

If the amendment just said the Constitution allows this type of organization to do this and the “how” may be regulated by the state, I’d probably be for it. But this amendment sets forth a specific policy prescription and safeguards, which, if they don’t work, will take years to change because they’ll require another constitutional amendment!

So while I certainly think Veteran’s groups do good work…and far too often they do work the state itself should be doing, I can’t support this amendment because it reads too much like a bill and not enough like a constitutional amendment…if that makes any sense.

So, I say vote No on Amendment 4.

So there ya go. Take it for what its worth. But most importantly, go vote.

Oct 21 2014

Roland’s Folly – Part Infinity

Posted by Steve Ross in Shelby County, State Politics

Shelby County Commissioner Terry Roland

Shelby County Commissioner Terry Roland

Shelby County Commissioner Terry Roland says the County has a legal problem.

See, back in 2007 and 2009 the County Commission passed two ordinances that established a prevailing wage and a living wage for workers who work for County contractors.

The idea behind the ordinances is simple: If the County is going to pay a company to do a job, that company should pay their workers either a living wage, or the “prevailing wage” i.e. the wage paid to the majority of workers working in a specific field…rather than lowballing workers in a tough economy at a time when unemployment was high.

It should come as no surprise that the Tennessee Legislature…led by Ron Ramsey, Brian Kelsey, Glen Casada and Beth Harwell just plain hated the idea that people should get paid enough to live on…or at least in line with market prices for labor of a specific type. So, they passed a law outlawing these kinds of ordinances.

That was in March of 2013.

Fast forward to today…18 months after the fact…Commissioner Roland has sponsored two ordinances that would overturn the County’s living and prevailing wage ordinances…because they’re against the law.

Now, that may not seem like a big deal, but both ordinances stand as a statement against the kind of interference from Nashville that has been the hallmark of the Ramsey/Harwell era.

Roland wants to overturn this because he says it puts the County at risk of a lawsuit. But the County has been abiding by state law since it was enacted…because state law has supremacy over local ordinances and all that stuff you learn in a basic Civics class.

By the way, County Attorney Marcy Ingram says changing the ordinances is necessary. But if you look at her track record of “opinion” you should find yourself questioning her legal judgement. If someone tried to sue the county for not complying with state law simply for having an ordinance on the books, that suit would be thrown out immediately, because, in fact, the County is complying. That the County has a law on the books that has been superseded by state law is unremarkable.

Now, you might ask yourself, why keep this on the books since its no longer relevant.

The answer is simple, because the people of Shelby County, through their elected leaders, passed these ordinances long before the State decided to intervene. In fact, there was an election between the passage of these ordinances and the passage of the new state law, and everyone who voted for the ordinances, including the author, was overwhelmingly re-elected…enshrining public opinion in favor of the ordinances. And in doing so, we made a statement about our collective values. For all we know, the state may decide one day to change their law, which would mean our ordinances…still being on the books, would be back…in full effect.

Terry Roland wants to make sure this never happens.

I hope the County Commission will take this opportunity to take a stand against the state’s interference, and reject Roland’s proposed ordinances and stand for fair wages for workers, even if the state’s GOP legislative leaders don’t give a damn about them (because that much is abundantly clear).

If you want to read the ordinances proposed by Commissioner Roland, you can find them here.

Living Wage Repeal
Prevailing Wage Repeal

Aug 19 2014

Slow your roll…

Posted by Steve Ross in elections

Just because he won, doesn't mean his seat is vacant

Just because he won, doesn’t mean his seat is vacant

With the election of State Senator Jim Kyle (D-Memphis) to the Chancery Court here in Shelby County, there will have to be a process to fill his State Senate seat.

On the face of it, this all sounds simple enough, but State Law has complicated the issue, as it is known to do, and that’s causing a bit of controversy surrounding the process of selecting a Democratic nominee to replace the Senator.

See, most people who didn’t know any better would think there’d just be another primary election (possibly on the date of the State/National general election in November), followed by the general election (sometime thereafter), but that’s not the case.

Because of the timing of Senator Kyle’s as yet unannounced resignation, select members of the Shelby County Democratic and Republican Executive Committees will have to select a nominee to the November General election.

How you get to that point, depends on how you read the law.

The State Party’s Prescription

Late Sunday night, the County Party sent members of the Executive Committee an advisory on who should be a part of the Caucus. The release, which is covered here, calls for a meeting of the Executive Committee on August 21st to determine the process, then the beginning of nominations on August 28th.

Now, setting the process early isn’t a bad thing. And there’s nothing that prohibits the Party from doing so before there’s actually a vacancy. But setting the beginning of the nominating process for any time before there is a vacancy is problematic.

In legaleese, the issue isn’t ripe (or ready for action).

Until Sen. Kyle submits his resignation to Gov. Haslam (as prescribed in TCA §§ 8-48-104) and the Governor issues a writ of election, there is no vacancy to fill.

So beginning any process to fill an unrealized vacancy is jumping the gun.

What if Sen. Kyle suddenly decides he likes the State Senate and doesn’t want to resign (unlikely, but possible)?

Truth be told, Sen. Kyle is in the driver’s seat, until the very moment he transmits his resignation to the Governor (sometime before he is sworn in as Chancellor). At that point, its up to the Governor to issue a writ. When that happens, then and only then is the process in the hands of the County Party.

So, to recap: Setting up a process before the a vacancy has occurred isn’t entirely bad, but starting the actual call for candidates before the vacancy occurs is problematic.

But that’s not the only problem with the party’s plan for filling the, as yet, non-existent vacancy.

Reside versus Represent

In the Draft release sent to the Executive Committee, the state process quotes Tennessee law.

Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-14-202 is the relevant section of code for this circumstance. But what the code means is another thing entirely…and especially here in Shelby County, where, by virtue of our size, and the bang-up job the Tennessee General Assembly did on gerrymandering the heck out of the House Districts, it gets complicated.

Here’s the relevant section that everyone’s quoting:

(d)(3) If a vacancy as described in subdivision (d)(1) occurs after the sixth Thursday before the primary election, the members of the county executive committees who represent the precincts composing such senate district may nominate a candidate to appear on the November election ballot by any method authorized under the rules of the party.

“represent” is bolded for emphasis

Now, this all sounds easy enough, except, the County party isn’t organized by precincts or State Senate Districts, we’re organized by House districts. And those House Districts are all over the place when it comes to crossing with Senate District 30.

Click to enlarge Senate Dist 30 is bordered in white  Overlapping districts are in orange

Click to enlarge
Senate Dist 30 is bordered in white
Overlapping House Districts are in orange

Here’s an idea of what that looks like.

As you can see from the image on the right, there are a lot of House Districts that intersect with Senate Dist. 30, and none of them are completely inside the district.

In all, there are 8 of Shelby County’s 14 House Districts that intersect at some point with Senate District 30. They are House Districts: 83, 85, 86, 88, 90, 93, 97, and 98.

If you’re an Executive Committee member representing one of those districts, you represent every precinct in that district

And that’s where the TNDP’s plan fails or the County Party misinterpreted the statute.

Here’s the email sent out to Executive Committee members announcing the Special Called Meeting. You’ll note that the final paragraph says this in part:

Per State Statue, Executive Committee members who reside in Senate District 30 and House District Chairs representing Districts that overlap with District 30 will make up the Caucus that will be responsible for electing a person to fill the Senate District 30 vacancy.

again, bolded for emphasis

Now, go back to the statute I quoted above. Nowhere does it say the people who “represent precincts” in the Senate District must also “reside” in the district.

We are a representative body, elected by people in all of the precincts of our district, as set forth by our bylaws which are approved by the State Party.

Excluding anyone who represents anyone in District 30, no matter how small of an area, is effectively creating a class of plaintiffs that could sue, effectively tying the outcome of the process up for a very long time. I don’t think anyone wants that. I certainly don’t.

Sure, that will mean there will be more than 40 people (more than half of the Executive Committee) participating in the process, but the people who chose to participate in the Ward and Precinct Caucus last year, as well as the Convention, selected people to represent them in matters of this nature.

Doing anything (purposefully or inadvertently) to ignore that process effectively disenfranchises them and ultimately makes them a part of any lawsuit class that might arise from getting it wrong.

Party Rules

Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-14-202 (d)(3) mentions “party rules” near the end of the quoted statute. It should be noted, that means how the winner is named, and nothing else…ie: majority of the vote or a plurality.

The party can set the rules in that manner, but the statute is clear on who is a qualified elector…and the Party can’t change that.

As for the method, that may be less clear. But it bears noting that in primary elections, a majority, as prescribed by the State party’s plan, is not the method normally used. Here’s the portion of TCA §§ 2-8-113 that applies.

(a) On the fourth Thursday after a primary election, the state coordinator of elections shall publicly calculate and compare the votes received by each person and declare who has been nominated for office in the primary or elected to the state executive committee. The candidates who receive the highest number of votes shall be declared elected or nominated;

bolded for emphasis

As we’ve seen in nominating procedures in the County Commission…voting until there’s a majority can yield unexpected and bizarre results. It can also lengthen the nominating time a great deal.

I can find nothing in state law that would mandate either a “most votes/plurality” position, nor a “majority” position for a caucus, but I would submit that the plurality will cause the process to run more smoothly, with less possibility of confusion.

Everyone understands the concept that the person with the most votes wins.

Final Thoughts

In the wake of some of the less pleasant things that have occurred in both State and County politics of late, the last thing either group wants to see happen is controversy arise in the act of fulfilling a fundamental process of these entities.

We have a full month before this has to be decided. Heck, we have nearly 10 days before Senator Kyle must resign to be sworn in as Chancellor.

Its critical we get this right.

For that reason, I hope both the Shelby County Democratic Party, and the Tennessee Democratic Party will take a step back and reconsider the process they’ve laid out thus far.

That may mean voting on the process issue closer to the Sept. 4th meeting (which would give the potential electors time to review any new process that arises). But voting on a potentially flawed process now only means more confusion in the end.

We can make this clean, clear, and completely right with the law if we keep ourselves from rushing through the process.

I hope we’ll take a step back and make sure we get it right.

Aug 13 2014

Too broken to bother with?

Posted by Steve Ross in Shelby County

Not everything is fixable...but that doesn't mean its disposable

Not everything is fixable…but that doesn’t mean its disposable

There are some things in this world that are more disposable than others.

When they break, rather than trying to put Humpty back together again, you just discard it.

Wine glasses are the weakest link in our home. Hell, probably every home.

They’re not really that expensive (if you keep getting the cheap ones) and when they break you don’t even consider fixing them because…well that’s just too OCD.

Chances are, the thing wouldn’t hold anyway, or would leak like a sieve.

Why bother.

But there are other things that aren’t disposable. When they’re broken, battered or bruised, you need to try and help fix them.

There are lots of both constructive and less-than constructive ways to do that…but we need to understand that just like no two people put a puzzle together exactly the same way…there is also no one set way to fix something you care about.

No matter what, If you value something, you should be willing to be a part of fixing it.

A conversation with a friend

Over the 4th of July weekend, I was at a cookout with some friends. Most of the people I know are on the “more active” side of the political activity scale. Since early voting was just a few days away, the conversation turned to the election.

As it happens, July 4th was just two days after Judge Joe Brown voiced allegations about DA Amy Weirich’s sexual orientation. Needless to say, due to the freshness of the topic, this was at the top of the conversation list.

There was universal agreement that the attack was out of line. Just two years before the County Party had taken a stand in favor of equality for the LGBT community. It seemed wildly discordant that one of the party’s candidates would then turn around and try to use sexual orientation as a line of attack.

Then came the question, “Why is the SCDP such a bunch of clowns?”.

That got my attention.

The speaker went on to air a long list of grievances, many relevant, some less relevant.

I listened intently. We talked back and forth about some of the challenges. After hearing, yet another declaration of the party’s ineptitude I smiled and said, “You have the power to help change that. When’s the last time you came to a party re-organizing convention?”

The answer was either never, or so long ago its not relevant.

We talked about that. Eventually we agreed to disagree as to whether that kind of participation would do any good. Fatalism is a common refrain in Democratic politics, it seems.

This person is a good strong Democrat. Someone we should want working with us. But they don’t feel like its worth their time to fix it. Its not that the party is disposable to them, its that their so frustrated, they don’t know what to do, and they don’t feel like anyone else is doing anything (or knows what to do) either.

Putting Humpty Back Together Again

Humpty before the fall

Humpty before the fall

From my initial involvement in the County party in 2006, to today, there has been plan after plan to try to transform the party into a positive force in the community. Some of those plans have been better than others. Few have ever been executed even partially.

The party is factionalized, regionalized, and its members are often suspicious of each other…concerned about some grand conspiracy to somehow take what little power they feel they have away by empowering some other faction or another.

Its tragically comedic, but it goes back to old fights…some decades old, and grudges that have outlived the patrons.

I’m not going to pretend the body has a long history of being truly effective. In talking to folks who were involved in the 80’s and 90’s, it seems clear that the party has long been more focused on the minutiae and turf wars than on the kind of “global” goals that would bring about success in those Countywide contests that have been so fleeting.

There’s been an internal struggle over the “power of the party” which at the same time has rendered the party largely impotent. And truth be told, there are some elected officials who have benefitted by that impotence…though most of them, at this point, are either long gone, or are halfway out the door.

Putting Humpty together again means getting past some of these old fights. In the 2011-12 cycle, it looked like we were getting there. But much of the progress of that term was lost too easily, as new leadership came in, and much of the party’s institutional memory shifted out.

That’s not to blame Chairman Carson, or the new Executive Committee…because these things happen with leadership change.

But while the leadership at the top of the County Party structure may have been in flux, leadership in terms of elected officials within Shelby County…Mayors, City Council Members, Commissioners, State House and Senate members, and all the way up to Congress, has been largely stable, and completely disengaged.

When your elected Democrats aren’t engaged in the party, there’s no way to get around the leadership struggles…and lose a big part of the organization’s institutional memory in the process.

Leaders must lead

There’s an interesting dynamic between the County Party and elected Democratic officials in Shelby County…the lack of a working relationship of any kind.

Most elected officials have been able to stay in office just fine without the help of the County Party, so its reasonable to understand why they might not see the value in to having an effective organization…until things go wrong.

Then, just like disengaged “rank-and-file” Democrats out there who loudly complain about the party’s failures, so do the party’s electeds.

The most visible example of this is the statement made by Congressman Cohen on election night, which I quoted in this post.

I’m not saying Congressman Cohen is wrong, because he isn’t…but just like the conversation with my friend, its a bit hypocritical to criticize the County Party when you’ve not really been engaged in it.

Cohen has built a powerful campaign operation every cycle since 2006. His campaign has very strong fundamentals…and that’s a big reason why he wins consistently.

But as soon as the campaign season is over, that operation goes dark. The operators, by and large, go their separate ways, until the next time they need to assemble to defend the Congressman against a challenger.

That level of expertise is direly needed in the County party. And while some members of the Cohen team have engaged the party, and been largely flummoxed by the goings on, the Congressman hasn’t taken the opportunity to mentor and nurture party leadership outside his organization.

Its not my purpose to beat up on Congressman Cohen. He’s just one example of this scenario.

Truth is Mayor Wharton (the Democratic County Mayor from 2002 to 2009), amassed an impressive campaign structure in his own right in 2011 only to dismantle it and disengage. He’s just as guilty of doing this, as is every other elected Democrat in Shelby County…current or former.

Leaders don’t get to complain that something’s broken, then not try to be a part of working to fix it…especially when they’re associated with it (via party designation).

But lets be clear here. I’m not calling on electeds to set up another kind of ‘boss’ structure. Competing bosses…even long after they’re relevant, and the unproductive fights they engage in, are a big part of what brought us to where we are today.

I’m saying they should lend their expertise, and mentor up and coming leaders who can help the party become more effective.

The effectiveness vacuum we’re going through now is not for the lack of bosses, but because of bosses…and damage caused by them that no one has been able to repair.

I would hope our elected leaders would take part in helping repair that damage…without remaining part of the problem through neglect…or becoming part of a bigger problem through the strong-arm tactics of past bosses.

Conclusion

The local party has had structural problems for a long time.

What has happened this cycle is just a more extreme example of what happened in 2010, and nearly on par with the shenanigans of 2008…minus the success.

Lets get one thing clear: the party isn’t a sentient being. It takes a coalition of people working together to keep going. It takes a great deal of expertise, time and care to have a healthy party.

If the coalition that makes up the Executive Committee puts self-interest, or apathy, or any other negative thing ahead of the building, we find ourselves back at square one wondering, “what now”?

Maybe that’s where we start…with “What can I do to help” rather than just stating the obvious…that its broken.

If we don’t, we’ll find ourselves right back, in this same place in four years time…wondering how to put Humpty back together again…or if its even worth the effort to try.

Aug 10 2014

Apologies and firing squads

Posted by Steve Ross in elections

Friendly fire isn't that friendly

Friendly fire isn’t that friendly

I was all wrapped up in pre-wedding festivities yesterday, so there’s a lot of stuff I didn’t get to react to.

Since my last post, Chairman Carson has apologized for his off the cuff remarks.

It takes strength to admit when you’ve made a mistake.

I applaud him for that.

Ready, shoot, aim

The circular firing squad that has been the hallmark of Democrats this election started long before the voting even really got kicked off.

A slew of Facebook posts from folks in and around the Democratic Party establishment, took aim at other Democrats for things that were, quite honestly, petty.

We put each other in the crosshairs in a primary election, instead of banding together to put Republicans in the crosshairs in the general. We suffered for that.

We fought internally instead of working together to get the most electable members of our slate elected (which is what the party should always do…its called campaign triage). We dragged friends into debates about minutiae. We lodged full frontal assaults on each other.

It was stupid.

But those distractions are part of why we got our asses kicked. Those distractions didn’t pop up overnight. They have been percolating for months…only to be brewed into a sour pot of failure in the only real election the Party is supposed to be preparing for…the County general election.

Watching the Vote

Over the course of early voting, I was watching who was turning out, and where. I’ve been working on a predictive model based on past performance, and I wanted to gauge how it was working. It still needs work, but there’s one thing I saw that alarmed me from the very beginning.

See, there’s this group of voters called “other”. Its a racial classification the Election Commission uses when someone doesn’t fill out that part (its optional) of the voter registration form.

“Others” make up about 42% of the total voting population. There are services out there you can subscribe to that will help you figure out this mystery one way or the other. I used an unnecessarily complicated formula based on census data, age, and turnout statistics from previous elections to figure out an estimate of the true racial breakdown of the voting population.

Here’s what I found. There were over 37,000 African-American early voters that pulled a Democratic ballot. Looking at the early voting numbers from the Commercial Appeal, that’s around 8000 more voters than our top two candidates on the ticket received from early voting. I calculate that there were about 6000 (+/- 5%) White Democratic voters (classified as other) in early voting. Those two combined are still less than the total our top two candidates lost by in early voting.

The long and the short of it is, crossover was rampant, and crossed just about every demographic line imaginable.

These numbers are preliminary. Once the all detail report is available, I’ll be able to better measure this against lists provided by private companies.

What it should tell us is, our candidates didn’t connect with voters well enough to be successful. Actually, that’s what every election loss should tell you.

Reflections on 2012

When you make the decision to run for office, you have given yourself the opportunity for the kind of self-discovery that few other things can provide.

It doesn’t take long to figure out what you’re good at, and what you’re really bad at.

Delegation is not my strong point. I found that out in spades. But I am willing to literally work myself to death (I’m not sure what that says about me, but its true).

I made field the cornerstone of my campaign…to the detriment of fundraising and just about everything else (I believe in field and will still do it, but I sacrificed money, and ran out of time). Its a mistake I won’t make again if I ever decide to offer myself up.

I knocked on thousands of doors myself, and talked to so many people. I loved it.

By election day in August, I knew I wasn’t likely to win. I had expected to be running against Marilyn Loeffel…a perennial candidate in that district. I had ample reason to believe that if Loeffel was the GOP nominee, I would get some GOP crossover (even though she didn’t win, I did still get some support from Republicans…even though I’m about as liberal as they come).

But after I had time to look at the results, I found something. Lots of people in the old District 1 didn’t vote in that election. In fact, 1460 people who pulled Democratic primary ballots didn’t vote for me, or anyone. That’s 13.6% of all the Democrats in the old District 1 who participated in that election.

The cross-section of voters based on race isn’t particularly instructive. Lots of white and black people didn’t vote for me.

Why is that?

Is it because they made a decision about me based on my race/class/other arbitrary determination? Possibly. But that’s not the lesson I chose to learn from that experience. The lesson I took away from that was that I didn’t communicate effectively enough with those voters to earn their vote.

Its that simple.

I was angry for months after that election.

I was angry at other Democratic elected officials who I’ve supported for years, who didn’t see fit to endorse me (I was and still am very grateful to the ones who did). I vowed to never support them or even give them so much as a courtesy vote.

I was angry at the thousands of voters whose houses I canvassed, who didn’t even bother to show up and vote.

I was angry at myself, for spending so much time on a stupid campaign and putting my family’s finances in jeopardy.

I eventually got over myself…for the most part.

But I learned something about campaigning and about voters:

1. No one is paying as much attention to the issues as you want them to. Its your job to make your platform resonate.
2. No one will do it for you. You have to be smart and work your ass off if you want to get elected to anything.
3. Communicating your priorities means doing more than sending mailers, setting up websites, and yes, even canvassing. You have to make opportunities to make your case on the substantive issues of the day.
4. Its not the voters fault if they can’t find a reason to hit the button with your name on it…its your fault. You didn’t connect. You didn’t get your message out there effectively enough.

There was no way I was going to win that race under the circumstances. I didn’t effectively campaign enough (even though I’m still proud of my efforts) and the cards were stacked against me (in terms of ideological participation).

And while I didn’t get the outcome I wanted, I did get a valuable lesson in running for office…striking a balance between the resources you need to get elected (people, time and money) and the things you must do (communicate, contact, and capitalize on the issues) is critical.

This is a lesson the Shelby County Democratic Party need to try to take from this cycle, instead of continuing the circular firing squad that has been the hallmark of the organization since 2010.

Critical Analysis

Its natural for people to get angry after a loss. Its natural to assess blame, and seek out scapegoats. Its easy to do that based on demography. But the hard thing to do is step away from that anger and honestly critically analyze what just happened.

The truth of the matter is, blaming a demographic group for a loss is the best way to alienate that group…and eventually lose them forever. People don’t take kindly t voting their conscience than then being blamed for not doing what someone else wanted them to do.

That’s not a path we should travel.

White Democrats have taken the brunt of the abuse over the past two cycles for the party’s losses.

One could just as easily blame African-American voters for not showing up in August (in terms of turnout, White voters far exceed their countywide demographic balance based on population in August elections).

Here’s the truth. In early voting “white” voters out-voted their percentage of the total voting populace by 10 points. That’s huge.

“Black” voters, out-voted their overall percentage by just under 2%.

“Other” voters (I’m one of those), under-voted their percentage of the total voting population by 13 points.

Why not just blame the “others”? They didn’t turn out. Its their fault, right?

Others are typically younger (under 45), have diverse racial and class backgrounds, and, apparently, don’t vote in August.

How many “others” did Democrats target?

Or maybe you could look at it like this.

Of the 7 solidly Democratic County Commission districts, 5 had turnout that severely underperformed their percentage of the electorate. In all, that means 8.62% of the total vote in safe Democratic districts didn’t show up.

Why not blame the Democratic County Commission candidates in those districts for not working hard enough to turn out the vote? (6 Republican districts over-performed by nearly 7 points, making a +15 point advantage…or 65 to 35…which miraculously is about the margin of victory for Luttrell and Weirich).

There are a million ways to slice and dice blame.

But that doesn’t help us as we try to figure out how to win in August of 2018 any more than blaming one demographic group for not voting the way we think they should.

The truth is, they got their vote out better than we did, and we lost because of it. Plain and simple.

They connected with voters where we didn’t.

I don’t know what else can be said about that.

But the smart thing to do, is hold fire…especially on your allies. Then work on a plan to turnout enough voters…especially those who don’t normally turn out in August. That’s what I told members of the SCDP executive committee in February, and I stand by it today.

We didn’t match GOP voters on a 1:1 basis by Commission districts, and we (predictably) lost because of it.

Conclusion

Politics is a passionate business for those of us who spend an inordinate amount of time practicing it.

That passion can manifest itself in both productive and unproductive ways.

Its our job, as folks who pay attention to this stuff, to try and find productive, actionable solutions to losing.

Blame-storming isn’t productive.

How do we get more people to participate, to balance against GOP strongholds who have a culture of participation? That’s the question we need to be asking.

How do we find the voters, who push (D) every time in November, but don’t show up in August to show up? That’s the pathway to success.

Blaming one group or another isn’t productive. It’s a diversion that brings division and more losses in the future.

We can choose to ask ourselves these questions, and learn from the past two cycles (2010 and 2014) or we can keep doing what we’ve been doing…at our own peril.

We have an opportunity to learn and grow from this, if we will only accept it.

I hope we’ll choose to grow, instead of turning on each other and continuing to decline.