NASHVILLE - The head of Tennessee's Democratic Party, Roy Herron, says he's ready to rumble with the state's majority Republicans, but right now Herron has a fight closer to home.
Rebellious Democratic State Executive Committee critics on Saturday pummeled the former state senator with complaints, questions and criticisms over his executive style and some decisions during their first meeting since his contested election as chairman in January.
During the meeting, the Finance Committee chairman, Jerry Maynard, of Nashville, and vice chairwoman, Mary Patterson, of Mount Juliet, resigned, citing disagreements with Herron.
Maynard, an appointee of prior state Democratic chief Chip Forrester, also said Herron was entitled to his own picks. And he complimented Herron's fundraising for Saturday night's Jackson Day Dinner. Herron said it was expected to bring in at least $340,000, more than double the total in each of the past two years. He said the party spent only about $23,000 to stage the event.
Herron began the meeting with a plea for party members to call a halt to the internal wars that had plagued Forrester, a liberal. During Forrester's four-year tenure, former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen and most of the state's Democratic congressmen quit dealing with Forrester.
"There's some in this room who can hardly wait to get a hold of me, and I understand that," said Herron, a social conservative. "And I promise you ... I'll give you a chance." But he said he was hoping to get through his first meeting without a fracas.
He said when he campaigned for the job, "there were a lot of you who told me they were tired of coming to meetings and fussing -- Democrats and Democrats. There are a lot of you who'd rather fight with Republicans than Democrats. Now, that's all of you and I understand that."
But he asked members to give him one meeting without criticism "and then you can fight with me me, chew on, whatever you want to do."
He warned internal dissension could get in the way of efforts to take on Republicans controlling the governor's mansion, both U.S. Senate seats, seven of nine congressional seats and holding supermajorities in the state House and Senate.
"We have enormous opportunity," he said. "You know, they say they're conservative but they're crazy -- or acting crazy."
He said tea party Republicans are filled with "hate" and mainstream Republicans are quaking in fear of them.
But the executive committee members were pretty much all about internal gripes.
State House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner, of Nashville, is unhappy that the party is isn't using a particular national database used to target voters.
Executive Committee member Sylvia Woods questioned whether Herron's figures for Jackson Day fundraising included money that normally would be flowing into the party. If so, the fundraising total would be inflated, she said.
"Some of the folks on the executive committee who didn't vote for me or wonder whether this is real or not," Herron said in an interview later. "I understand that and respect that. We'll show them all the numbers and they can decide. The finance director knows that -- he was Chip's guy."
The chairman noted Saturday's meeting was the first since his election "and there were those who were for me and those who were for somebody else [Dave Garrison]. I think we'll move past this. There'll be some questioning and folks will have to see to believe and we'll show them ... these [Democrats] are people who care passionately."
Herron said some on the executive committee think he's "too conservative," but he added Democrats agree on core issues such as protecting a woman's right to end a pregnancy if her life is in danger, or providing quality public education.
"I think the Democrats' biggest ally right now is the extremism of the radicals and the reactionaries who've taken over the Republican Party in Tennessee and their deviation away from conservative and compassionate policies to a radicalism and reactionarianism that centers more on who do we hate and who do we fear."
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550.