In a letter Wednesday to members of the state Democratic Committee, Kuhn said, “I’m exploring the opportunity to run as chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party and am actively discussing my candidacy with executive committee members as well as leaders of our Party.”
Kuhn thereby becomes the first declared alternative to current state Democratic chairman Chip Forrester, who has already announced his candidacy for reelection in January.
Several disaffected Democrats, including veteran political figure David Briley and former state party chairman Will Cheek, both of Nashville, have called for Forrester to step down in the wake of the party’s severe losses in this month’s state and federal election. But, until Kuhn’s announcement, no other Democrat had made an announcement of availability for the chairman’s post.
Kuhn, now a resident of Lakeland, served as Shelby County party chair from 2005 to 2007. He subsequently served as an interim Shelby County Commissioner to fill a vacancy, before resigning that post in December 2009 to serve as policy advisor to interim county mayor Joe Ford.
The son of longtime former county attorney Brian Kuhn and local Democratic executive committee member Nancy Kuhn, Matt Kuhn has connections elsewhere in the state through his service in 1999 to Bill Purcell, whose successful candidacy for Nashville mayor was managed by Kuhn. Kuhn has managed other Democratic campaigns, including one of South Carolina Democratic congressman John Spratt’s victorious races. He also served as an aide to congressman John Tanner in Tennessee's 8th District.
In 2005, during a period of turmoil and cries for reform in the Shelby County Democratic Party after the revelation of the Tennessee Waltz scandal, Kuhn was a last-minute choice for county Democratic chair, defeating party veteran David Cocke. Kuhn served only one two-year term, however, and opinions vary among local Democrats as to his effectiveness.
Kuhn’s letter to state committee members reads as follows:
November 17, 2010
Members of the State Democratic Executive Committee
RE: Moving Forward
Dear Executive Committee member:
“Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.”
I was on the mall that day, January 20, 2009 and felt the outpouring spirit of 2 million souls crammed onto the majestic national mall and what I experienced could be compared to having a conversation with a friend. I felt encouragement, enlightenment, excitement and a great kinship with everyone present. What was Right on that day for America, is what we need in Tennessee today.
The phrase that President Obama used in his inaugural address can be applied to our party. As a brand we are broken and starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin the work of remaking the Tennessee Democratic Party.
Since that time on the mall, a mere 22 months ago, I heard the call of service and demonstrated my willingness to stand by Obama’s phrase by serving as a Shelby County Commissioner and then as the Policy Advisor to the Mayor of Shelby County. One thing that was clear to me that bright brisk day on the mall is that those with the capacity to serve our country have to have the courage to do it. We in Tennessee have lost so many of our brand’s salesman that we are left struggling to be relevant. First and foremost we must dispel the rumors of our demise, which have been greatly exaggerated.
I want to work as your Chairman to bring salesman back to our brand. I want to be part of a dialogue that was started by Committeeman Briley about where we are going and what our ideas are for the future. Here are mine.
We have to work diligently to replace the John Tanner’s, Ned McWherter’s, and Phil Bredesen’s of our brand. We have to have a 10 year strategic plan in place that rebuilds our party and regains the trust of the rural and suburban voter who has abandoned our party over the last 10 years and as a former Shelby County Chairman and Campaign Manager and staffer to John Tanner, I believe I know the rural and suburban voter well.
What would I propose as Chairman?
A. Fundraising re-organization
The “friends of” funds which we have always relied on are no longer available to us. We have to explore alternative means of funding the Democratic message through every legally permissible way. This includes the encouragement of the pro democratic business community to galvanize democratic business leaders to participate in the debate. The entire executive committee needs to take on fundraising. We have to change the way we do the ‘business’ of our politics. We need to set up PACs in each Senate District and raise funds year round. Each Senate District Executive Committee man and woman should work with the direction of the Chair and ED to hold three fundraising events a year. The Party will provide infrastructure and fundraising lists per district, but as Salesman we must work for our brand year round.
B. Under 40 recruitment
As we sell our brand raising dollars we must diligently pursue our future. Every $1000 contributor to the party should be asked who in their community should run as a democrat that is under 40 years old and would represent our brand well. Who are the entrepreneurs and up and coming civic leaders who show an interest in service? We need a list of our best and brightest potential candidates. The TNDP’s 40 under 40 list to be promoted on our website can highlight our brand and build for our future.
C. Tennessee Truth Project
The one area which I believe we’d be foolish to abandon during the off cycle is the constant collection of opposition research material as well as Democratic led pro-business initiatives that help the working family. I propose that a professional media savvy staffer be dedicated to chronicling, commenting and cataloguing every preposterous statement and attack on working families that will come from the General Assembly. I worked in Congress in 1994 and that was the year that we lost the majority last time. The rhetoric that came from freshman republican congressmen was astounding. We should expect an onslaught of sanity testing ideas coming from a Republican led legislature, such as trying to roll back the progress we’ve seen with the Pre-K program in Tennessee.
I’m exploring the opportunity to run as chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party and am actively discussing my candidacy with executive committee members as well as leaders of our Party. I look forward to our dialogue.
Lastly, I’m discussing a run with my family and in all areas of service it is that commitment which makes or breaks any decision. I ask for your counsel, advice and prayers during this exploratory period and will announce my decision to run by Dec 1st.