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Local Dems reject call for ‘convention’ to tap 2012 choices

The Shelby County Democratic Party has stepped away from a proposal that called for a November convention to start the process of picking candidates for local offices up for grabs in the 2012 elections. by Tony Jones
Special to the Tri-State Defender

The Shelby County Democratic Party has stepped away from a proposal that called for a November convention to start the process of picking candidates for local offices up for grabs in the 2012 elections.

The group’s executive committee rejected the proposal during a meeting held last week.

Van Turner, president of the Shelby County Democratic Party, this week acknowledged that there had been a vote on whether to hold a convention or allow the voters to go the polls to vote in a Democratic Primary. Although the convention idea failed, it had some positive attributes and reflected the “need do something to bring grassroots organizations together and develop an agenda,” said Turner.

“If no succession planning was done for us, we have to do our own planning. We need to identify key targets, identify persons to go after these positions, and start raising monies and getting positive press on them now.”

A letter penned by Democratic Party activist and Shelby County Board of Commissioners member Sidney Chism sheds some light on the “convention idea.” Chism’s letter has been widely circulated, thanks in large part to the online network of Gail Jones Carson, who is the Tennessee Democratic Party secretary.

“I am strongly opposed to such a “nomination” list,” Chism said in his letter, “because only the voters can (and should) be the standard bearers for the party and can only provide their voice through the continuation of the primary process.”

According to Chism, the essence of the proposal would have disenfranchised Democratic Party members, proved a disservice to the community encouraged more voter apathy. He said the “convention idea” came from Dell Gill, a longtime Democratic Party politico and a player in the People’s Convention of the early 1990s, and a few other people. It never made sense, he said.

“They should have never brought that mess up. It would have given too few people the right to make decisions for thousands of others, depriving them of the Democratic process. You’re not going to disenfranchise 400,000 people. We’ve never done that and we’re not about to start now,” said Chism.

“For a county of four of five hundred people it might work, but not for a county with half a million people.”

Reached about the proposal, Gill chose not to comment.

The People’s Convention paved the way for Dr. Willie W. Herenton to emerge as the “consensus” candidate who went on to become the first African-American elected mayor of Memphis in 1991. In his letter, Chism noted what he saw as the defining difference between the recent proposal and the People’s Convention move.

“We assembled to choose one candidate to run as a Democrat. When it was first proposed to me I agreed because the goal was to create a consensus candidate to keep from fragmenting the black vote, but only if it was structured to protect the ward and precinct system,” said Chism. “Let the candidate get out and work and bring the people in. That’s the fair process. Not a few people make choices for others.”

Turner addressed the convention idea and local Democratic Party critics in a written statement.

“After last year’s election, we have a lot of rebuilding to do, and I just want to make sure that we as a Party are solution-oriented and focused on the positive,” wrote Turner. “We are at a crossroads politically on so many levels.  

“I look to Atlanta to see how young African-American leadership has stepped up and are doing well, with brothers in their 30’s and 40’s in key leadership positions and are getting the job done.  If we, the ones on the scene now here in Memphis in our 30’s and 40’s, don’t step-up, I fear a whole generation will be lost.”

About 80 to 90 Democrats attended the last meeting, said Turner, who noted other items of interest from that session

“A TNDP (Tennessee National Democratic Party) Field Coordinator presented the fact that we have 115,000 Democrats who are unregistered to vote here in Shelby County. We talked about a plan to get them registered,” said Turner.

“Additionally, Rep. JoAnne Favors from Chattanooga spoke about how they are tackling the Voter ID law there and gave us some effective strategies regarding this issue to use here.”

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