Reinventing the Wheel 

Democrats start with the basics as they strive to recreate an official party for Shelby County.

David Cocke presiding over Democratic revival at The Gallery

Jackson Baker

David Cocke presiding over Democratic revival at The Gallery

The meetings underway among Shelby County Democrats to rebuild what for the last nine months has been a defunct local party have so far been therapeutic in the most basic way. Faced with a need, in effect, to reinvent a political party, the participants have — at least in the first two meetings, one in Raleigh, another in Midtown — had to in almost the literal sense, reinvent the wheel.

One highlight of the Raleigh meeting, held Saturday a week ago in the Stage Road local office of state Representative Antonio Parkinson, was the advice of lawyer Carlissa Shaw, one of two presiding co-hosts, that, while meetings of the newly regenerated party-to-be would need to follow specific rules of procedure, these need not be  based on Robert's Rules of Order, the complex series of regulations that have governed conclaves of various kinds, large and small, since they were first propounded in 1876 by former Union brigadier general Henry Martyn Robert.

Shaw said that either members would need to memorize Robert's Rules in toto, or they could — and perhaps should — devise simpler and more easily grasped rules of their own. As she noted, one of the major problems that bedeviled the former party, decertified last August by state Democratic chair Mary Mancini after what the party head called "many years of dysfunction," was the fact a determined provocateur could (and often did) bring meetings of the party to gridlock and collapse by invoking a tangle of "faux parliamentary rules" bearing little or no actual resemblance to Robert's Rules.

That was one highlight of the reorganizational meetings so far. Another was the attendees' discussion of how the new local party, once reorganized, might promote its candidates to the public at large. One version of the question, based on the abject failure of Democratic nominees in recent local elections, was whether the party hierarchy should pick out specific participants in contested primaries and get behind them. That idea, undemocratic (and un-Democratic) at its heart, got the bum's rush it deserved. 

Another question, posed by Democrat Larry Pivnick at The Gallery, concerned why it was he received little to no support from state party sources in his unsuccessful race for state House District 83 in 2016, whereas other party candidates were better favored (Pivnick did not single anyone out, but it was no secret that Dwayne Thompson's upset win in District 96 was significantly helped by money directed his way from Nashville).

"Is the [state] party a PAC?" Pivnick inquired of David Cocke, like Shaw a lawyer and the hard-working co-host of the local reorganization meetings. Cocke was hard put to acknowledge that a certain amount of cherry-picking inevitably goes on when political parties channel their limited resources at election time.

The fact is that local Democrats are getting a cram course in bottom-line realities as they prepare to re-enter the realm of official politics. After a third meeting on Tuesday of this week at the Pickering Center in Germantown, a final session will be held next Monday at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Whitehaven. 

Then will come the adoption of bylaws, the election of officers, a petition to Nashville, and — voila! ... at some point a recreated Shelby County Democratic Party.

• Saturday's budget summit of Shelby County Commission members, members of county Mayor Mark Luttrell's administration, and other county officials at Shelby Farms was a seminar of sorts on the fundamentals of the forthcoming county budget. But nothing said or examined there resolved what is shaping up as a battle between those commissioners, mainly suburban Republicans, who want to see a tax cut, and those, like other commissioners in both parties and the mayor, who want to hold the fiscal line more or less where it is.

The issue will likely be pitched on the basis of the arguable additional needs of public safety and the Regional Med.


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