Rep. John DeBerry of Memphis announced Wednesday he is challenging Nashville Rep. Gary Odom to become House Democratic leader in the next legislature, saying it’s time for new direction after the party's drubbing in November's elections.
DeBerry, who begins his ninth term in January, is one of 14 black Democrats in the House. He was chairman of the House Children and Family Affairs Committee. He joins Rep. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley in running to oust Odom as minority leader.
“As Democrats, we’ve got some bitter pills to swallow, as my dad used to say. We ran these campaigns without a message,” DeBerry told The City Paper. “And if there was a message, nobody understood it. And if they understood it, they didn’t like it. Nobody took anything from us. We lost it. We didn’t just lose. We got stomped.”
Asked why House Democrats should vote for him rather than Odom, DeBerry said, “I’m not going to be in denial that our message did not resonate.” But he added, “I don’t think any of us can place this debacle on Odom alone or on anyone alone.”
DeBerry pledged to work with Republicans, saying that’s the only choice of Democrats, who lost 14 seats in the House in the elections. Republicans now hold a 64-34 margin.
“A lot of the Republicans are very good friends of mine. We’ve worked together on a lot of issues. If we’re going to get anything accomplished as Democrats, we’ve got to reach across the aisle and find consensus, be statesmen, build some bridges.”
A date for House Democratic leadership elections hasn’t been set yet. Nashville Rep. Mike Turner is running again to chair the party’s House political caucus.