Sunday, June 26, 2005

Three-Ways Usually Don't Last

The Shelby County Democratic Party held their Ward & Precinct Caucuses on Saturday; a warm-up to their bi-annual convention on July 23rd. Some surprising things happened that portend interesting days ahead. You can read Jackson Baker's write up and LeftWing Cracker's pre-game jitters and after action report to get most of the story. There's also this activist sub-group member's praise, as well as what passes for their agenda. Nothing in the Sunday Commercial Appeal, sadly.

Usually, these leadership fights turn into nasty battles between the pro-Ford and pro-Herenton camps for control of the party's chairmanship. You'll recall that last time, disgraced State Senator and resigned recent chair Kathryn Bowers had an ugly procedural fight against Mayor Herenton's Chief Administrative Assistant Gale Jones Carson. Control of the Chair is control of the agenda, the money and the patronage, and the local party.

This time, something unusual happened. An insurgent third group not only made in-roads but appears to have set itself up as king-makers. They go by several names -- Democracy in Memphis and Democrats in Action -- and have many leaders, but they appear to have coordinated themselves into a position of power. Reports vary as to how many seats they captured in the delegates -- 30 according to Baker and 50 according to Becky Kelly of DiM; I'm not sure how many total delegates there are, though, so I've no idea how influential that number is.

These folks seem bent on making sure that the "business as usual" folks who generally lead the SCDP get either pushed aside or shaken hard. As one person puts it:
We feel that in the past, the convention has often been all about who controls the chairmanship. This has created rifts and splits within the party and committee after the convention. Our intent is simply to get good, active Democrats involved in the party, elected as delegates, and elected to the committee, regardless of whom they support for chair.
It strikes me, as someone who wasn't there and is reading tea leaves, that two things are happening here. One, this is fallout from the Tennessee Waltz sting that stamped Memphis Democrats pretty hard with the "Corrupt" label. Some members of the party seem to be trying to shake off the Old Guard and bring in fresh untainted faces.

Second, the suburban white Democrat bloc, taken for granted locally the way black Democrats are taken for granted nationally, is rousing. As Baker notes:
To the naked eye, the new party cadres were overwhelmingly white – though some of their key figures (Watkins, for example) were African American. But race was not the factor that bound them together. Most of them were motivated by a desire to throw off the perceived timidity and uncertainty that have accompanied Democratic defeats in recent years.
Some of them were "Deaniacs," who entered the political process with near-revivalist fervor to support the reform efforts of Howard Dean, a presidential candidate in 2003-4 and now the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Others got involved to support the 2004 Democratic nominee, John Kerry, against President Bush.
This is what piqued by attention, and I think is a good sign for non-Democrats. This crowd is intent on driving the Democratic party back farther to the left politically, away from the mainstream of America, which is more conservative right now. Electorally, this portends well for 2006 when, in Tennessee, the political hot-button will be gay marriage.

These folks are also part of the wing of Tennessee Democrats who are opposed strongly to the way Governor Bredesen is conducting his "reform" of TennCare. They are going to be, at the least, angry with Bredesen in Election 2006, and there are still the occasional noises about fielding a "real" Democrat in the gubernatorial and Senate races in place of what State Senator Steve Cohen called "Republican lite attitudes."

Lastly, there was very bad news for would-be US Senate candidate Harold Ford, Jr. He had been campaigning to have former SCDP chairman David Cocke elected to a new term, even getting some name Democrats involved and getting Cocke on local television news to raise his profile. He failed. Cocke wasn't even elected as a delegate. How widespread the repudiation is, remains to be seen. But Cocke was beaten to a delegate's seat by Memphis Flyer publisher Kenneth Neill!

The Flyer (which employs Baker) has been at the forefront of local media efforts to drag Ford from his perceived moves and feints to the political right. Not too many months ago, Baker was quite proud of himself for getting national notice in forcing Ford (and for the forcing itself) to clear up some intentional political fuzziness -- which served to allow Ford to appear to some on the Right as sympathetic to Bush's Social Security reform effort. Ford was moved back to the Left, and none to pleased about it.

What does this have to do with the title of this post? Humans like dyads -- pairs. Three-party relationships eventually find someone on the outside looking in. American political nature abhors more than two parties in any political question. Three parties jockeying for dominance in the SCDP leadership question will almost certainly mean one is defeated and sent into obscurity. Given the entrenchment of the current crop, the stakes involved, and the exposed corruption seeped through the works like locusts in a cornfield, the insurgency has their work cut out for them. Simply winning votes by a majority won't be enough. Look at the last leadership vote, where a procedural majority win was overturned by a technicality and tossed the other way. It's not going to be a simple "We win!" and they're off, but more like trying to tear hungry jackals away from a fresh carcass.

I toyed with the idea of going to this caucus event, and somewhat regret not going now. But I'm really thinking about attending the Convention on July 23rd. You know, Virgil moving through the Seven Circles of Hell and all.

So, like I said, interesting times ahead. If the Tennessee Waltz produces more indictments, especially the locals ones still hinted at, it gets exponentially better.

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