"No Surrender" 

State Democratic chairman says new arrangement has unified party.

I read with concern Jackson Baker's April 28th Politics column, "Truce or Surrender? Democratic Establishment Grabs Power Back from Forrester." While I have long admired Baker's journalistic skills and appreciate his insightful reporting on politics, this time he didn't get it right.

First, it is no secret that my candidacy for Tennessee Democratic Party chair was not supported by key Democrats, including the governor. But since my election on January 24th, I have worked hard to "circle the wagons" and unify the party for the crucial effort of taking back the state House and Senate and winning the governor's race in 2010.

Like any coming-together, this has been a process, as feelings have healed, lines of communications have been established, and all the parties have been able to put the election behind them and look forward to 2010. I never expected this would happen overnight, but I knew that over time these key Democratic officeholders would do what they knew to be best for the party.

There have been a few bumps in the road during this process. In hindsight, it was not my best decision to ask Bill Freeman to serve as party treasurer. I was certainly focused on the incredible fund-raising successes he had with the Obama-for-President campaign and not on his past difficulties with the governor. But with Freeman's resignation, it is now my hope that this issue is behind us.

I'm proud to say that House Democratic Caucus chair Mike Turner and Governor Bredesen have been key leaders in this process, but it has also involved high-level staff and donors. The process has been an evolutionary one with no magic "aha" moment that defines that a deal has been struck. The process is continuing even now.

Baker was right when he noted in his article that things were moving in a positive direction at Speaker-Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh's annual Coon Supper. But to characterize this as "surrender" could not be further from the truth. The coming-together of all the constituencies for party unity is something I hoped would happen and could not be more pleased with how this has taken place.

Baker also wrongly states that the "deal" requires that I hire an executive director picked by the governor and report directly to the governor. This is completely untrue. What we have decided to do is bring on a top-flight communications director (something that I campaigned on while running for chair) to more aggressively combat the continued failings of the Tennessee Republican Party, which has been hijacked by extremist right-wing zealots like Representative Jason Mumpower, Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey, and the state GOP chair, Robin Smith.

Given his history as a successful entrepreneur, Governor Bredesen looks at operations from a business perspective and in discussions has suggested that the party develop a business plan to help guide its operating activities, which we are in the process of developing now. The kind of leadership that the governor has given the state in these turbulent economic times is just the kind of leadership he has demonstrated for the party.

What we are really doing is having the entire team play to its strengths. The governor's fund-raising prowess is key to our statewide financial success. This is an "all hands on deck" candidate-recruitment process that seeks, identifies, recruits, and trains the best candidates for 2010, empowers the 72 members of the state Democratic executive committee in a much more visible leadership role, re-engages our 95 county parties, brings the grassroots activists from across the state into the party, and utilizes new, 21st-century communication tools to create a community of committed Democratic activists to do the single most important job we all have: win in 2010.

There has been no "surrender" — just the unification of our party for the battle ahead.

Chip Forrester is chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party.

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