Republicans Get Set, Democrats Get Ready 

The local GOP names a new chairman, while Dems prepare for a showdown.

As of this weekend, Shelby County's Republicans are a step ahead of their Democratic counterparts in reorganizing. The GOP, whose scheduled party caucuses were snowed out earlier this month, conflated the caucus event into their convention Sunday at Houston High School, elected new members and new officers with minimal controversy, and elected a new chairman, lawyer Lang Wiseman, by acclamation.

Not even a resolution on the hot-button issue of abortion, one that essentially put the party on record as opposing any government funding of abortions and which passed on voice vote, would roil the local party's general solidarity.

Meanwhile, Shelby County Democrats, who managed to complete their party caucuses back on March 7th, prepared for a showdown vote on a contested chairmanship Saturday at Airways Middle School. The two Democratic contenders, both lawyers, are veteran activist Jay Bailey and current party parliamentarian Van Turner.

Though confusion still attends the issue, Bailey appears to have gotten something of a boost Sunday from the state Democratic Party.

According to multiple sources, the state party's county party development committee reaffirmed, via a conference call on Sunday, that the local party's executive committee, also to be chosen on Saturday, must be so apportioned as to reflect last year's presidential turnout. There is general agreement that party bylaws will require the executive committee to expand — perhaps by as many as 12 seats.

Membership on the executive committee is apportioned by state House of Representatives districts, and the party bylaws provide a formula correlating the number of committee seats to the degree of each district's support for the Democratic presidential candidate in the most recent election cycle. President Obama carried several Shelby County districts so overwhelmingly that they would be due to gain seats on the committee, said Bailey booster David Upton. If so, most of those gains would apparently be in heavily black districts.

Both Bailey and Turner are African Americans, and both candidates have support among both blacks and whites, but it is generally believed that Bailey's support is more concentrated in the districts that could gain seats.

In a lengthy recent session of the local party's executive committee, a proposal to expand the committee in accordance with the bylaws was defeated, but, before or during Saturday's convention, the current local party committee will once again have to bite the bullet and decide on whether and to what degree expansion is called for.

The local party's convention committee met Monday night with outgoing chairman Keith Norman in one more effort to resolve the thorny, complicated issue, and Norman said afterward there was concurrence by all present on the general principle of expansion and that work was proceeding on a compromise. "I'm optimistic," he said about the prospect of an agreement being reached before the convention convenes.

In any case, it will be the task of the newly elected party committee, however reconstituted on Saturday, to elect a chairman.

Although both candidates for the Democratic chairmanship can boast some name endorsees, the latest public endorsement for Bailey was an unusual two-in-one message from former City Council member and mayoral candidate Carol Chumney, who in a robo-call message to likely convention attendees, boosted Bailey at the same time that she referred to herself as "your next mayor."

The next mayoral election is scheduled for 2011, though an early departure of whatever kind by beleaguered incumbent mayor Willie Herenton could move that date up.

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