published Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

Democratic leader Roy Herron is tired of Tennessee politics being the go-to joke on TV

Roy Herron
Roy Herron
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TENNESSEE ON TV

• On April 9, Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show" lampooned state Rep. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, for introducing a bill linking grades to welfare payments. On April 23, Stewart suggested Campfield may be a Dickens villain.

• On March 20, Stephen Colbert on "The Colbert Report" noted that during renovations on the Tennessee Capitol, several legislators approached the state Senate clerk to express their fear that a mop sink being constructed at floor level in the men's room was actually a Muslim foot-bath.

• On Feb. 7 Colbert took on Campfield's "don't say gay" bill. Colbert said Campfield could be the perfect presidential candidate for the Republican Party in 2016. In a segment called "Mr. Smith Goes to the State Legislature — Stacey Campfield," Colbert praised Campfield for his "heroic work protecting our students' morals."

Roy Herron is tired of seeing Tennessee politics as the go-to joke for late-night TV hosts.

"I remember when Tennessee was the leading state for economic development in the South and one of the top 3 in the United States of America," the newly elected Tennessee Democratic Party chairman said Monday. "Now we rank No. 1 in the country for references and time on Colbert and late-night television."

The talk Herron gave at the JFK Club's May meeting was his first formal address in Chattanooga since being elected as the state party's chairman in January.

He listed several controversial Republican-backed state bills this session as examples of "nonsense," including a proposed bill that would put the U.S. Senate candidate nomination in the hands of state lawmakers; a proposed law that would base welfare payments on students' performance at school; and a constitutional amendment on abortion for next year's ballot that does not provide exceptions for victims of rape, minors or women whose lives are at risk.

"I'm not making this stuff up," Herron said. "It has never been more important to be a Democrat than it is right now."

Things also couldn't be much more bleak for Tennessee Democrats right now -- with Republicans boasting a super-majority in the state Legislature and control of the governorship, both U.S. Senate seats and seven of the nine Congressional seats.

But Herron harkened back to 1970, when Democrats were in a similar position. It wasn't long before they had wrested control of Tennessee's state government and won the majority of congressional seats.

"We did it before, we can do it again. I believe that with all my heart," he said.

He said the "extreme partisanship" of the state's current legislature could prompt a backlash from more moderate voters.

But Hamilton County Republican Chairman Tony Sanders says the alleged partisanship is more headline-grabbing myth than fact.

"We're reaching out to all people, all parties," Sanders said. "We represent what the core values of a lot of Tennesseans are. ... I don't think we're driving people away, I think we're reaching out to many different people that don't fit the 'GOP' that the Democrats want to label us with."

Sanders said those late-night jabs are "just someone trying to get a cheap joke in."

"I mean, obviously [they] are Democrats, so they're going to look for anything that is not Democratic to poke fun at," he said.

He said that Tennessee Republicans are well-respected on many levels, but according to Herron, many who used to be loyal to the party are starting to look elsewhere.

"I'm having Republicans come up to me and tell me, 'Y'all need to win some seats because those folks are crazy up there,'" Herron said.

He said the party is tightening its internal spending to pour more money into election season and ramping up its candidate recruiting efforts.

After the meeting, Herron said potential candidates in the 2014 races for Sen. Lamar Alexander and Gov. Bill Haslam's seats would be "making announcements soon," although he would not say who those people are.

Herron also said the party is targeting the 2014 District 4 congressional race, even though its efforts to beat U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais failed last year.

Even if DesJarlais does not win the primary, Herron said, "I think that's a district where a Democrat can win, regardless of who the Republican nominee is."

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