DEMS GIVE CHAIRMAN ULTIMATUM: DISINVITE GIBBONS, LUTTRELL 

The latest controversy in local Democratic Party ranks concerns efforts by several of the party's nominees on the August 3rd general election ballot to prevent the appearance of  some notable Republicans at the Democrats' annual Kennedy Day Dinner on Monday night, May 22nd.

Local Democratic chairman Matt Kuhn, who has experienced several thorny issues during the course of his chairmanship (not yet a year old) has been given, in effect, an ultimatum of 5 p.m. Sunday to decide whether to uninvite District Attorney General Bill Gibbons and Sheriff Mark Luttrell, both Republicans, to the annual fundraising dinner at the Holiday Inn on Central Avenue.

In a "Dear Matt" letter prepared and signed during the course of a meeting at the Mud Island home of Democratic nominee Gail Mathes, who will oppose Gibbons, seven party nominees notify Kuhn "formally of our strong  request that you immediately contact these Republican officials to inform each that the party does not wish for them to attend the dinner. "

The latter also says, in part: "We believe the party and you are truly obligated, both morally and legally within the Bylaws of the Party to show complete and open commitment to your nominees.  It is dishonest to the principles of the party and misleading to the public to allow the inference of approval to be extended to these Republican officials who are currently in office. 

"As nominees, we believe the Republican Party relies on lies, deceptions, and dishonesty in manipulating public opinion.  The inclusion of these Republican officials in one of the seminal Democratic events held in this county lends such an air to the Democratic Party itself.

"Accordingly, we will not cease our efforts to oppose this hypocrisy and the cowardness [sic] of these elected Republican officials to our party as a whole."

At its conclusion the letter says, "A prompt response from you is essentially being demanded by us by Saturday 5:00pm." 

The signatories, and the offices for which they are nominated, are: Mathes, District Attorney General; Reginald French, Sheriff; Shep Wilbun, Juvenile Court Clerk; Becky Clark, County Trustee; Sondra Beckton, Probate Court Clerk; Coleman Thompson, Register; and Vernon Johnson, Criminal Court Clerk.

The issue of Gibbons' and Luttrell's attendance at the Democratic affair - indicated on these officials' Web sites - has been the subject of intense debate in party ranks and on the local blogosphere.

Both Gibbons and Luttrell command significant support from some well-known local Democrats, and both have attended other events on the Democratic calendar.

Governor Phil Bredesen, himself something of a political middle-of-the-roader, is the scheduled keynoter for this year's Kennedy Day Dinner.

As it happens, both Luttrell and Gibbons were attendees at Saturday night's "Tennessee Homecoming Dinner," an event sponsored by the Shelby County Republican Party and featuring TV actress Dixie Carter, former governor Winfield Dunn, and singer Kellye Cash.

The two took diametrically opposite attitudes toward the emerging controversy over their potential appearance at the Kennedy Day Dinner. Luttrell said he had decided not to attend, even though, as recently as Saturday afternoon, he had received a voice-mail message from Kuhn urging him to do so. The objecting Democrats were being "too partisan," said Luttrell, but he said he had no desire to be the focus of a politically divisive issue.

Gibbons, though, said he had every intention of being on hand Monday night. "I have a lot of Democratic supporters," he said. Like Luttrell, he said the partisanship of the protest was uncalled for. "And besides," he said, with the beginnings of a smile intruding on his deadpan, "I've paid my $250!"

Text of the Democratic nominees' letter to Kuhn is as follows:

Dear Matt:

As the Party's Chairman for the Shelby County Democratic Party, we, the below nominees, who are seeking to be elected on August 3, 2006 to public office in Shelby County Tennessee, are writing you regarding our position concerning the inclusion of Bill Gibbons and other Republican office holders in the Kennedy Day Dinner. You, as Chairman, have an obligation to all the Democratic candidates of absolute support and loyalty. In fact, the purpose of a political party in this country is to propose a candidate and elect that candidate, as the candidate should and must represent the values of the party as a whole.

It is our understanding that you have been fully informed of the above situation and of the unhappiness of many true members of the party regarding this problem. By this letter you are herewith being notified formally of our strong request that you immediately contact these Republican officials to inform each that the party does not wish for them to attend the dinner. We believe the party and you are truly obligated, both morally and legally within the Bylaws of the Party to show complete and open commitment to your nominees. It is dishonest to the principles of the party and misleading to the public to allow the inference of approval to be extended to these Republican officials who are currently in office.

As nominees, we believe the Republican Party relies on lies, deceptions, and dishonesty in manipulating public opinion. The inclusion of these Republican officials in one of the seminal Democratic events held in this county lends such an air to the Democratic Party itself.

Accordingly, we will not cease our efforts to oppose this hypocrisy and the cowardness [sic] of these elected Republican officials to our party as a whole. A prompt response from you is essentially being demanded by us by Saturday 5:00pm . You can telecopy or e-mail your response to the above noted number. We will await that response.

(In addition to the above-mentioned signatories, the name of Otis Jackson, Democratic nominee for Shelby County clerk, was appended as "not available for signing.")

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