Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Larsha Incident

As I'm certain most people are aware by now, a member of the Shelby County Democratic Party Executive Committee, William Larsha, plans to sponsor a resolution that the executive committee back Jake Ford in the upcoming election for Tennessee's 9th District Congressional seat. West Tennessee Liberal and Leftwing Cracker have both written magnificent pieces about it that all should read, and Desi Franklin has written terrific responses in all corners of the blogosphere that should be read as well.

I don't personally know Mr. Larsha. If I've ever met him, I'm unaware of it. All that I have to base an opinion around are the statements of others, and he seems to be almost universally respected. He's an older man who lived through black Americans' struggle for equality, so his perspective is going to be a bit different than mine. He came of age in an era before Dr. King; My parents married a few months after Dr. King died, but I wasn't to become anything other than a vague idea for another four years.

It's hard to blame someone who has survived what Larsha has survived and seen what he has seen for not wanting to surrender what he undoubtedly sees as a sign of black progress.

Does that mean he's right? Not a chance.

My anger when I first heard about the resolution has been replaced by sadness on many levels. I'm sad that white politicians have been so traditionally unresponsive to the needs of black constituents that some believe only a black candidate is willing to fight for them. I'm sad that as a result of all that, someone with no record to run on is seen as a viable alternative to someone that has a long record of fighting for the oppressed.

I'm also sad for Mr. Larsha, as I think his position is an attempt to roll the clock back to good old days that have long since passed.

A black representative no longer means that blacks have representation. It's been ten long years since the 9th District has been represented by someone that I've seen really take any kind of a stand on behalf of black Americans.

Larsha's resolution is flawed because it is based on the premise that only a black representative will represent the interests of black constituents. If he was thirty years old, I could easily write this off as blatant racism. Larsha remembers the days when that was true.

I sympathize with the man based on that. But here's the real reason he can't be kicked off of the executive committee for this.

Is this or is this not the party that got into a huge row over the endorsement on non-Democrat judicial candidates recently? How did that turn out?

Has anyone put forth a resolution condemning Deidre Malone or any of the other Democrats that endorsed Bill Gibbons?

If Mr. Larsha is to be shown the door for this, then there's much more housecleaning to be done within the SCDP Executive Committee.

Larsha's resolution should be called out of order and spiked before it gets to a vote, just as he undoubtedly knows that it should based on the bylaws he helped to write.

But should his be the only one?

I know that some of the "Democratic" (In quotes because TN judicial races are supposed to be nonpartisan) candidates in the judicial races were grossly underqualified, and Steve Cohen is anything but underqualified. That's certainly a mitigating factor in the executive committee's judicial endorsements.

But at the end of the day, the question is very simple; Is the executive committee in the business of endorsing and supporting non-Democratic candidates or not?

I support Steve Cohen. I think the very fact that people believe Jake Ford's presence in this race is anything but superfluous is an insulting underestimation of Cohen, whom I believe will end up being the greatest champion that people of all races have had since Paul Wellstone died.

All I ask is that as people deliberate the fate of William Larsha, they try to look through the eyes of an old man who has seen the bad old days and is terrified that they'll return.

It's easy to show mercy to a staunch ally. It's much more difficult to show mercy to an opponent, but it's the hallmark of great leaders. Julius Caesar pardoned those who supported Pompey Magnus in the Roman Civil War. Abraham Lincoln waged war with the goal of returning Confederates to America again.

And the SCDP Executive Committee faces the same challenge--- To defeat an effort without destroying the individual that supports it.


bob said...

Very sweet and very poetic. Worthy of Paul Wellstone's memory.

But should the resolution not be spiked out-of-hand, here's my advice about monsters.

Freedonian said...

Thank you, Bob. And your advice is excellent.

Blinders Off said...

Wonderful post. You have made some valid points, I hope the committee members do the right thing.

nut-meg said...

He definitely should not be kicked out for suggesting this. But I truly don't understand why people can't just take a look at Cohen's record.

If one looks at Ford Jr's record, if you didn't know he was a Democrat, you'd think he was a right wing Republican. That's his perogative of course. But he should just be a Republican if that's what he wants to do.

One has only to realize that Jr has been in Congress for ten years and Memphis STILL has third world infant mortality levels. Infant mortality is an important indicator becasue it directly reflects the ills of a society. Access to education, employment, and healthcare haven't improved much over the last ten years. Most of the innocent victims of the infant mortality rate are black. I personally don't care what race these children are, they simply should not be dying in such numbers.

What has Jr. done about this? It should set off huge alarms for all of us. But in DC our reps conduct business as usual. We need a change. The people of this city selected Cohen to be that change. He deserves a chance.

Anonymous said...

Freedonian -

This is a great entry. While, I obviously don't agree with his resolution, you did bring up some interesting arguments. One of the reasons that I am not as heavily involved with the party is I do like the freedom of supporting candidates, and I do think the party should support the candidates. However, I also think that sometimes, Democrats especially, the parties need to do a little better job of sceening candidates.

LeftWingCracker said...

this may be your best yet, pal. see you tonight at DLM...

Anonymous said...

oops soory - I forgot to sign my name. Anonymous 3:34 PM is me.


Freedonian said...


Thank you. I hope so too.


Kicking him out has been discussed by a few people, some of whom I really like and respect. I still really like and respect them even if they disagree with me and vote to kick him out--- But I'd prefer that they not.


I also think that sometimes, Democrats especially, the parties need to do a little better job of sceening candidates.

Agreed 100%. Some of our candidates were simply pathetic, and recruitment is something we really need to work on.


Thank you, my friend. I'll be looking forward to killing a few brews with you tonight.

BraveCordovaDem said...

I have never commented on this blog and may be raked over the coals for this one. Some of your points are good and others are not.

First of all, I became active in Memphis Democratic politics around the time that your parents married. The catalyst was the events that occurred to bring Dr. King here in the first place when I saw a thinly veiled racist, Republican Mayor who refused beyond reason to award sanitation workers a livable wage.

I have been active off and on since that time which gives me some institutional memory despite not being that old (55). Having been in many campaigns and having worked with the Executive Committee since 1970, I have NEVER supported a candidate running against a Democratic nominee and trust me, I have been tempted to do so several times.

I have worked with Bill Larsha and, because of my Southern upbringing, respect the him due to his age. We get along personally but I do often disagree with his approach to the direction of the Democratic Party. He is a dependable vote for the Chism faction, which I see as perpetuating an us vs. them attitude.

Assuming that there are no ulterior motives for his support of Jake Ford, I would call this a failure to change with the times and indicative of the immaturity of Memphis politics. We have examples all over the nation of constituenices voting in a candidate who is a minority racial/ethnic, eg. Tom Bradley as Black Mayor of then majority white Los Angeles and white Mayor Scott King of 90% black Gary, IN.

As far as the judicial endorsements, you again have bought into the common misconceptions of some local Dems. I was one of the co-sponsors of the motion to endorse judicial candidates and was on the committee who intereviewed practically every candidate. There was no way I would have suggested some of them. I am not a lawyer but it was obvious that many were simply not qualified. As you pointed out, Judicial races are non-partisan. The Committee voted to overrule many of our reommendations based soley on the primary choice candidates made in voting.

Primary choice is a weak indication of actual Party preference. In 1970, if a voter had chosen the Republican primary, you could just about bet that he/she was a Republican. In 2006, many suburban Democrats vote in the Republican primary simply to have a choice in who their County Commissioner or State Rep will be. To our knowledge, no active Republicans were recommended for endorsement. By the emotional fiasco and by endorsing unqualfied candidates, our credible endorsements had a reduced effect in the final returns.

Back to Larsha, he is a Democratic Executive Committee member working to defeat a Democratic nominee who won the primary fair and square. He should NOT be on the DEC. To do the honorable thing is to resign. If he doesn't, he should be removed.

As far as his resolution, I predict it will be easily defeated. As a member, I will certainly vote against it.

MemphisPixy said...

Cohen didn't receive 1/3 of the vote. Cohen was not the first choice for over 66% of the voters. Had Cohen defeated one black candidate in a head to head battle, I don't think that Mr. Larsha nor many from his generation would have such a bad taste in their mouthes. As one older statemen lamented to me, "we beat ourselves." Had a consensus candidate emerged ....Cohen would have lost. If Tinker had two more weeks to air commercials and talk about the front porch, it is likely that she would have won. Hell, if Tinker would have ran a good race with her money she would have won.

The point lurking beneath the surface is the "it just wasn't fair" mentality. I think Cohen's record speaks for itself. I think Cohen will represent the interests of black residents just as well if not better than most of the other candidates.

However, it is hard for people to swallow something when they don't think that it is fair. How many people think that Bush stole the presidency in 2000?

In sports, in politics and in life, people have a hard time swallowing things that they perceive to be unfair. For many, it just isn't fair that a white man will be representing the district because the black vote was split among 11 candidates.

Jake Ford has a GED and some college. He is CLEARLY unqualified. Thus, I don't think that enough black voters will vote in an unqualified Ford over the democratic nominee....unless Cohen does something stupid. If Cohen starts talking about wanting to join the congressional black caucus and having the voting record of a black woman, then things could get a lot closer. Especially, if Ford runs good radio ads and commercials. Cohen is lucky that Joe Ford, Jr didn't decide to run as an independent because if he had. I think that Cohen would be looking at Ned Lamont's numbers......

As for Mr. Larsha, I think that Ms. Malone, Mr. Larsha, and Mr. Fields and anyone else who wants to support non-democrats should have the decency to resign. Shelby County democrats will never be able to get democrats elected if members are allowed to work against democrats. The party will never become strong if members are allowed to stop supporting democrats. We need to work to put up a slate of qualifed democrats and then we need to support them.

I don't like the primary system here. I think that run-offs are necessary, and I think that nominees should be forced to get 50% of the votes + 1 but we have to live with the syetem that we have and we need to support the winner whether we like the results or not.

The answer for all those who are unhappy with Cohen is to find a consensus black candidate to run in 2008. The answer is not to support an qualified independent candidate. Mr. Larsha's energies would be better served by talking to Bolton, Stanton, Harris, Pratcher, Kyles, Mitchell, and Redwing and TInker and trying to convince them to agree on which one should challenge Cohen.

Cohen deserves his two years in Congress....people just might be pleasantly surprised and maybe just maybe they might even forget that his skin color and judge him on his record.

Freedonian said...

He should NOT be on the DEC. To do the honorable thing is to resign. If he doesn't, he should be removed.

I can respect your opinion on this. But honestly, if you kick Lasha off, then do we withdraw support for all the Democratic candidates that supported Gibbons & Luttrell?

You can't start something unless you have at least some idea where it's going to end. That room would clear out in a hurry if only people that have never supported Republicans were allowed on EC. That "Democrats For Gibbons" list was pretty long.

If we start this, then where does it end?

Freedonian said...

Had a consensus candidate emerged ....Cohen would have lost.

How sure of that are we? Is it your contention that 2/3 of Memphis will only vote for a black candidate, no matter who the white one is?

If you believe that's true, I think you've read TM a few times too many. I live in a racially mixed neighborhood in an apartment building that's probably 70% black. And I remember seeing a lot of Cohen stickers in our parking lot. Too many for me to get behind the idea that Cohen would have lost a 1 on 1 out of hand.

I think it would have been a closer race, but I think Cohen would have picked some up too.

BraveCordovaDem said...

"You can't start something unless you have at least some idea where it's going to end. That room would clear out in a hurry if only people that have never supported Republicans were allowed on EC. That "Democrats For Gibbons" list was pretty long."

We cannot control Democratic office holders, we haven't the authority or the power to do anything about them. However, if you are on the DEC, the body that is supposed to be the governing authority for the local Party, then yes, it's only proper to enforce discipline. No member was a Democrat for Gibbons, at least publicly. One member works for the DA's office but publicly told the group that she was not a Gibbons supporter. The only member that I know of, that has publicly supported a Republican was Richard Fields in his quest to help Terry Roland adn Richard would have been removed had he not resigned first.

Freedonian said...

The only member that I know of, that has publicly supported a Republican was Richard Fields in his quest to help Terry Roland adn Richard would have been removed had he not resigned first.

How sure of that are you? I recall Bob Tuke coming in from the state party the day of the vote to hammer out a compromise because no one was sure that the party had the votes to kick him out. It seems that anyone lashing out against Team Ford is okay with Team Chism.

BraveCordovaDem said...

"How sure of that are you?"

Pretty sure. We had the votes counted and it appeared that about 3/4 would vote to expel. The only ones against were a few die hard Chismites plus a few other new ones. Tuke's "compromise" was not necessary, his pronouncement that he had averted the "crisis" was condescending towards Shelby County, and it was probably not the best thing to do. His only purpose was to save face for Fields, Kuhn, and some others. A vote to expel would have been cleansed the Party of sorts and also set a tone that we would not tolerate disloyalty.