NASHVILLE - Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron said Saturday he's "heavily disappointed" the state Supreme Court didn't reappoint Democrat Bob Cooper as state attorney general, and he revealed the party spent $300,000 to help save the three Democratic justices on the retention ballot.
Last Monday, the five-member court cast Cooper aside and named Republican Herbert Slatery III, Gov. Bill Haslam's legal counsel, to an eight-year term as state government's top lawyer.
"We did a poll a week out and two of the three [justices] were behind and the third was in a dead-heat tie," Herron told members of his party's state executive committee. "There were large numbers of undecided voters. We thought they were on a path to defeat."
Herron also told executive committee members he would not seek a second two-year term as their chairman in January.
On getting quietly involved at the last minute on the Supreme Court election, Herron said Republican state Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey "and the Koch brothers from out of state were spending huge amounts of money [to defeat the Democrats]. We stepped up and tried to balance it out."
The party quickly raised and spent $200,000 on television and radio ads and another $100,000 already on hand for direct mail to help save Justices Sharon Lee, Connie Clark and Gary Wade, Herron said.
But after they won, an upset Herron said, "at least one of the Democratic justices" and two of the Republicans decided "to remove the most extraordinarily capable Attorney General Bob Cooper."
"... It pains me what they have done," Herron said. "I'm hoping, I'm praying they [justices] won't disappoint us further. The only thing you could say against Bob Cooper was he was a Democrat."
After saying he wouldn't seek re-election as chairman, Herron urged divided Democrats to quit squabbling among themselves and unite against Republicans in the campaign, as well as behind whoever succeeds him as chairman.
Herron has come under relentless fire from some Democratic critics over his management style as well as ongoing differences between moderate-to-conservative Democrats, such as himself, and the party's more liberal wing.
It's time to stop that, he said, noting Democrats in other Southern states, such as North Carolina and Virginia, have made political comebacks while Tennessee's party remains at its lowest point in modern history.
Democrats' decline was already in effect before Herron, a former state senator, became chairman. There has been speculation that Herron's support as chairman was weakened in August election, when a number of new executive committee members were elected.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550.