Tennessee Democrats elect leaders; Anderson loses bid for vice chairman

Mary Mancini is administered the oath of office after her election as chairwoman of the Tennessee Democratic Party in Nashville in this Jan. 10, 2015, file photo.
photo Mary Mancini is administered the oath of office after her election as chairwoman of the Tennessee Democratic Party in Nashville in this Jan. 10, 2015, file photo.

NASHVILLE -- Embattled Tennessee Democrats on Saturday chose Nashville activist Mary Mancini as the new leader of a party seeking to remake itself into a relevant political force in state politics.

Mancini received 61 votes for party chairman from executive committee members. Lenda Sherrell of Monteagle got nine votes. Sherrell was the Democratic nominee in the 4th Congressional District last year, losing to Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais in November.

In the vice-chairman contest, Chris Anderson, a Chattanooga city councilman, lost a 37-33 vote to former state Rep. John Litz of Morristown.

Mancini, a former executive director of the progressive group Tennessee Citizen Action, told fellow Democrats after her election that "it's time to get to work" to "rebuild and energize the base."

She succeeds Roy Herron, a moderate Democrat whose tenure was beset by the long-standing split between the party's moderate and progressive wings. Herron didn't seek re-election.

Mancini, who lost a Democratic state Senate primary race in Nashville last summer, alluded to the split in her remarks. Democrats not only need to "commit to one another but also listen to one another" to move forward, she said.

Moreover, she said, "we have to define what it means to be Democrats. We can no longer allow Republicans to define who we are."

Republicans now control all statewide elected offices and in 2008 gained control of the Legislature. Mancini pledged to field strong candidates for statewide contests to change that balance.

In 2012, state Democrats made national news when their little-known U.S. Senate nominee turned out to be an anti-gay-rights activist.

Then, last year, their nominee for governor -- a complete unknown named Charlie Brown -- lost in a landslide to incumbent Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550.