Rebuilding the Shelby County Democratic Party
The Shelby County Democratic Party ceased to exist in the summer of 2016. Despite intense efforts, it had become dysfunctional and no longer served the needs of Democrats in Shelby County. At the request of many, Mary Mancini (chair of the Tennessee Democratic Party) pulled the charter and dissolved the SCDP. It fell to individual Democrats and Democratic organizations (such as Democratic Women, Germantown Democratic Club, and Young Democrats) to step up and ensure Democrats had a presence during the 2016 election.
In early 2017, the TNDP set up a committee of leading Democrats from across Shelby County to reconstitute the Party. It was a diverse group – young and old, black and white, men and women, Shelby Countians and Memphians, experienced members and newly engaged activists. It reflected the community at large.
But what structure should the Party follow? The old Party structure resulted in too few membership slots – the only way on was to replace someone who was already a member. And, this ensured that the chair of the party was almost always a Party insider – someone who had worked in the system and built alliances over the years.
The architects of the new SCDP decided to open-up the process. They realized that many viewed SCDP party politics as a black box – people did not know when committees met, how decisions were made and how one could participate in the Party business. So, the Committee developed a series of goals for the new Party model. These included –
- A way for the new activist groups to get involved
- Input from the Party constituents in Shelby County
- Expand the electorate so that more people would be eligible to vote for chair
- Include flexibility. Shelby is a large county – what works in South Memphis might not work in Collierville
- Eliminate split precincts. Because of changes over the year, there were voting precincts split between House Districts. In some instances, that resulted in State Representatives having to caucus with people from a House District they did not represent
- Eliminate fluctuations in the size of the Executive Committee
- Finally, get it done quickly
The Committee held a series of listening sessions to which the public was invited. There were meetings held in North Memphis, South Memphis, Midtown and Germantown/East Memphis. During these meetings, the Committee explained their vision, listened to suggestions, and refined the model being developed. When the meetings were complete, the Committee got to work.
The result is the SCDP as it exists today.
The new SCDP consists of two-tiers. There is the Executive Committee, which is tasked with overseeing the work of the party. There is also a Grassroots Council, which organizes the neighborhoods and is the liaison between the community and the EC. However, both levels vote for the Chair, so candidates for Chair must now run a real campaign to convince a much larger electorate to support their candidacy. The new structure also allowed more people to get involved and many members of the new activist groups were elected to the Grassroots Council. Additionally, the EC includes positions for Democratic Women, Young Democrats and other interested constituencies. Future901 also salutes Corey Strong, who is leading the SCDP as its chairman through this reformation.
The new SCDP is now organized based on County Commission District. Voting precincts can’t be split between Commission Districts, so this eliminated using complicated formulas to assign split precincts to the appropriate House District. And, this allows people to caucus with their neighbors.
"...there are Democrats running in all 13 County Commission seats – something Shelby County has never had before and something the Republicans have not been able to do..."
The new SCDP now has a set number of members. Each District has 2 Executive Committee members, but the remaining members are allocated based on voter turnout in the previous Gubernatorial primary. The overall number stays the same but the geographic composition varies based on voter participation.
The new SCDP is flexible. Each District can set up events independent of the rest of the County. If a District in Germantown wants to do a “Picnic in the Park” while Whitehaven wants to do a canvass and Millington does a registration drive, this can all take place simultaneously with minimal SCDP oversight. The key is having independent groups empowered to do things that collectively move the SCDP forward.
The SCDP remains a work in progress. Some of the Districts are doing well, having regular meetings and getting the voters in their areas involved. For example, there are Democrats running in all 13 County Commission seats – something Shelby County has never had before and something the Republicans have not been able to do. Other Districts are still working, but all are moving forward.
They need everyone’s help. Check the website https://www.shelbydem.org to learn who are the members in your District. Like them on Facebook. Next time there is a meeting, plan to attend. The Party is only as strong as its members who participate. Get Involved.
Written by Dave Cambron