How long does it take to turn a state political party from an empire that controls every facet of government into an irrelevant laughingstock?
Apparently about six years when you have ineffective buffoons like Chip Forrester and Gray Sasser at the helm.
Since 2006, the Tennessee Democratic Party has gone from a dominant juggernaut that controlled every aspect of state government in Tennessee to having so few members in the state legislature that, after the November elections, Republicans will likely have a supermajority allowing them to pass whatever they want, whether any Democrats show up or not.
In 2007, for the first time in state history, the Tennessee state Senate convened with a Republican majority -- by one measly vote. Democrats controlled the state House by a nine votes.
In an attempt to change the culture of the state party and win back the majority in the state Senate, Democrats installed Gray Sasser as state party chair in 2007. Sasser had exactly one qualification: His daddy is former U.S. Sen. Jim Sasser.
On Election Day 2008, Barack Obama convincingly won the White House, but that Democratic dominance didn't translate to Tennessee. Republicans gained control of the state House of Representatives for the first time since 1969 and firmly seized the state Senate by a 19-14 margin.
Not surprisingly, Gray Sasser was tossed out as party chairman at the first available opportunity. His replacement, Forrester, worked as Al Gore's Tennessee chief of staff and had previously run the state Democratic party.
It could only go up from here for Volunteer State Democrats, right?
Well ... not exactly. Under Forrester, Democrats have gotten their rear ends handed to them.
In the 2010 election, a 5-4 Democratic advantage in Tennessee's Congressional delegation turned into a 7-2 Republican majority, Bill Haslam -- a Republican -- was elected governor and Republicans gained a seat in the state Senate. Most incredibly, the GOP's control of the state House went from two seats to 30.
As a result of the beat down, Republicans controlled the state House, Senate, Congressional delegation and governor's mansion for the first time in Tennessee's history.
Despite this historically crap-tastic performance by Tennessee Democrats, Forrester not only held onto his job -- he got a pay raise!
In March, Forrester snagged a 33 percent raise, bringing his salary to $125,000, according to the Associated Press.
• • •
With little chance of preventing a Republican supermajority in the Tennessee General Assembly and no real hope of winning back any Congressional seats this year, it seemed impossible for things to get any worse for Forrester and the state's Democrats -- that was, until the Aug. 2 primaries.
Now the Tennessee Democratic Party is making national news for denouncing its own U.S. Senate nominee, Mark Clayton.
Clayton, who will square off in November's general election against Sen. Bob Corker, garnered 30 percent of the ballots cast in the Democratic seven-candidate primary.
In the process, Clayton defeated the Democratic Party's preferred candidate Park Overall -- the actress who played the sassy/grating nurse on the sitcom "Empty Nest," which ran on NBC from 1988 to 1995. (Apparently that gives her sufficient knowledge of healthcare policy in the minds of the state party.)
Rather than embracing his party -- and his employer's -- nominee for Senate, Forrester announced that Clayton "is a candidate who is associated with hate groups affiliated out of Washington, D.C." Forrester further distanced himself from Clayton, stating, "[W]e are clearly disavowing any support."
It turns out that Clayton serves as vice president of Public Advocate of the United States, a group that works extensively to fight against same sex marriage and the furtherance of gay rights.
For its anti-gay activism, the Southern Poverty Law Center named Public Advocate a "hate group."
Of course, since the Southern Poverty Law Center is, itself, a wacky fringe outfit that draws press attention by calling perfectly mainstream people "extremists" and labeling conservative groups that express concerns over illegal immigration as "hate groups," its criticism of Public Advocate should normally be taken with a grain of salt.
This time, though, Southern Poverty Law Center appears to be onto something.
On its website, Public Advocate claims that "radical homosexuals [are] infiltrating the United States Congress." In a mass fundraising email sent in January of this year, Eugene Delgaudio, the president of Public Advocate, claimed that the "Radical Homosexual Lobby" had "legalized ... bestiality in the military."
All things considered, Clayton and the other folks behind Public Advocate actually do seem to be nuttier than a pile of squirrel droppings.
And that makes Forrester look like even more of a fool.
Before beginning his campaign, Clayton claims that he met with Forrester twice to discuss the race. Forrester even had seven days after the April 5 qualifying deadline to question whether Clayton was a bona fide member of the Democratic Party, according to a report by The Tennessean. During that time, the party could have easily kicked Clayton off the ballot.
It seems that Forrester couldn't be bothered to research Clayton's background. Or, more likely, Forrester did a Google search for Clayton and saw that he was a bit of a whack job, but didn't believe he could defeat Overall for the party's Senate nomination and decided not to worry with trying to pull the anti-gay hatemonger from the ballot.
To make matters worse for Tennessee Democrats -- and even funnier for everyone else -- Gary Davis, the runner-up to Clayton in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate has endorsed Clayton and is urging his voters to turn their focus towards electing Clayton in November.
In a phone interview, Clayton claimed that his socially conservative, fiscally liberal policy beliefs are what the people of Tennessee want. He then declared that "Park Overall's campaign has proven that far-left social liberalism is dead in Tennessee."
More accurately, what Overall's loss to Clayton proves is that the Tennessee Democratic Party is dead. If the party is so weak that it can't get 50,000 people to vote for its preferred candidate in a state of six million people, it may as well not even exist.
• • •
Democratic lawmakers are already an endangered species in Tennessee. After a couple more years with Forrester at the helm, Volunteer State Democrats may vanish for good.
And just think, without Democrats in Tennessee, who would vote to pour tax dollars into ludicrous green energy programs, nonsensical mass transit boondoggles or unsustainable increases in welfare handouts?
Who would shill for government employees who often do much less, but make much more, than many of the hard-working taxpayers who pay their salaries? Who would defend bad teachers and prevent great teachers from being paid what they're worth?
Who would push for an income tax that would devastate Tennessee's economy and send businesses and residents scurrying, or try to install nanny-state bans on everything from guns to snack foods to plastic bags?
Who would advocate for regulations, taxes and fees on businesses that would cause existing enterprises to fail and scare new entrepreneurs from coming into the state?
The answer is, no one.
Hey, wait a second ... that sounds great! Is there any way to make Chip Forrester the chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party for life?
related articles »
In a generation, Tennessee Democrats have gone from controlling state government to denouncing their own U.S. Senate nominee, a man ...
NASHVILLE — Tennessee Democrats legally could strike their controversial U.S. Senate nominee, anti-gay rights activist Mark Clayton, from the November ...
NASHVILLE -- Tennessee Democrats may be stuck with anti-gay rights activist Mark Clayton as their U.S. Senate nominee in November ...
NASHVILLE — One day after an anti-gay activist unexpectedly captured state Democrats' U.S. Senate nomination, embarrassed Tennessee Democratic Party officials ...