Some of the state’s biggest Democratic donors, led by wealthy businessman Doug Horne, are pressuring Chip Forrester not to run for another two years as party chairman.
Horne said Thursday his group asked Forrester to step aside to give new leaders the opportunity to try to rebuild the party. But Horne, a former party chairman himself, said Forrester is vowing to fight to keep his job and refusing to accept blame for November’s elections when Democrats lost the governorship, three congressional seats and 14 seats in the state House.
“There’s a big consensus of some of the more experienced people in the party and the donors in the party that they’d really prefer Chip not to run again,” Horne told The City Paper.
“We asked Chip not to run. I personally met with him and asked him to let us start anew and fresh. Chip can’t be blamed for all the defeats in Tennessee, but neither can he be completely exonerated. He was captain of the party’s ship, and the ship hit the banks. So we feel like we need to change the captain.”
Four candidates are running against Forrester, who couldn’t be reached for comment for this article. The latest to join the contest is Knoxville attorney Gordon Ball. Oddly enough, Ball was one of 105 Democrats who endorsed the Republican governor-elect, Bill Haslam, against Democrat Mike McWherter.
The party’s 66-member executive committee will elect the new chairman in January. Of all of Forrester’s challengers, Memphis activist Matt Kuhn is seen as the strongest by many. Horne said he’s backing Kuhn, a former aide to Congressman John Tanner.
“It’s just time to move on and start fresh,” Horne said. “Let’s have a new face for the Democratic Party. Chip wants to continue. But we’ve got a race and we’ll see who’s victorious.”
Two years ago, Forrester won his job despite the opposition of many of these same Democratic donors, plus Gov. Phil Bredesen and much of the rest of the party’s senior elected leadership.
About 50 Democratic leaders, meanwhile, met Wednesday in Nashville to debate what went wrong in the elections and how to come back. They included former Congressman Bob Clement, Metro Council members Megan Barry and Jerry Maynard, and state Reps. Mike Turner and Sherry Jones.
The meeting, the second since the election, was organized by Horne with other Democratic money men, including Charles Bone and Clark Jones.
“It’s a rebirth. It’s a redirection,” said Bob Tuke, a former party chairman who attended. “Where do we go from here? All good organizations do this. The Republicans have been great at that. When they take a pounding, they don’t mope. They get together and say, ‘How do we do it better?’”
Tuke said no consensus has been reached, but he added: “It’s really healthy positive stuff. I was very pleased there was the absence of whining.”