As reported by NashvillePost.com’s Ken Whitehouse, a truce has been called within the Tennessee Democratic Party between Chairman Chip Forrester and the "establishment" forces arrayed against him since his election in January.
The terms of that truce and how they are perceived, however, threaten to be just as controversial as Forrester's election itself.
The terms, as outlined roughly by Governor Bredesen last Thursday, are that Forrester will continue to serve as chairman, act as the public voice of the party and organize at the grassroots level. But another apparatus, organized around a new political action committee, will handle the bulk of the fundraising and candidate recruitment as Democrats attempt to take back the General Assembly in 2010 — just in time to hold the redistricting pen.
In some quarters this will be seen as an emasculation of Forrester. He is a man who has never been trusted by the grasstops of the party, and he will now be seen as little more than a figurehead. He will be viewed as a chairman in title only with the duties usually afforded him delegated to this rump entity, this shadow party.
But is that a fair assessment?
Certainly, the fact that the creation of a new entity was even viewed as a necessity is not the best of circumstances. However, it's a lot better than the status quo and certainly better than where the party might have gone had the status quo been allowed to continue.
Essentially, there are three groups inside the Democratic Party right now. There are, of course, the Forrester supporters: the progressive blogosphere, the Obama community organizers, his allies on the executive committee, etc. Then there are the haters: some of the bigger money fundraisers and operatives allied with the governor's office and the office of Congressman Lincoln Davis.
Then there is a third group caught in the middle whose voice has been lost in the shuffle: the pragmatists.
The pragmatists, while they may not be the biggest fans of Forrester and his supporters, do see the value in organizing the grassroots. They understand that, however imperfect the party chairman may be, he was duly elected by the executive committee. To try and oust him would be a public relations nightmare. To simply discard the new blood and energy Forrester has brought to the party would be a mistake. It was from the pragmatists' ranks that this compromise was born.
The haters, quite clearly, wanted Chip gone. With decades in Democratic politics, Forrester has made enemies. Those enemies are not legion but they number enough to cause Forrester and the Democratic Party a lot of headaches going forward. Thus, the necessity of this compromise.
Now the haters, instead of continuing to undermine Forrester, can focus their energies into this new vehicle, this PAC. Instead of trying to sabotage and block the party from being able to raise money, the haters can take the fight to the real enemy (the GOP) on their own terms and under their own banner.
Forrester, in turn, gets to keep his hand on those parts of the party that he is most interested in building: the grassroots and the communications shop. And he will be able to do so free and clear because the haters, instead of trying to tear the party down in order to take it back over, have agreed to leave him be.
Yes, Forrester will be without a lot of the big money donors, but he was always going to be without them. This deal actually takes the pressure off Forrester. He no longer has to bear the brunt of the blame for any losses and any lack of money raised because his detractors have taken on some of that burden for him. Instead of fighting over control of the party, each camp, the haters and supporters, can play to their strengths in pursuit of Democratic victory.
Instead of two angry mules trapped in a barn kicking each other, the two sides can now behave like two horses in a harness, separate but moving in the same direction together as one.
After all, this is not an unprecedented set-up, there are plenty of PACs out there that do just as much, if not more, for candidates than actual party apparati. Would the Republicans have achieved their electoral victories in the General Assembly if not for Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey's RAAMPAC?
Sure, Forrester's wings are clipped a bit, but he can still fly. Without the boot of the establishment so firmly on his neck, he can build the grassroots into the force he believes they can be. If, that is, the grassroots keep believing in him.
Kleinheider is NashvillePost.com's political blogger. Visit him at http://politics.nashvillepost.com/