Progressives in Tennessee, though an important part of the Democratic coalition in the State, need to realize that they are not living in New York City, California, of even Tennessee’s eastern neighbor Virginia. As a whole, the Tennessee electorate is pro-life, anti-gay, and pro-gun. They are social conservatives who believe that they cannot vote for the Democratic Party in Tennessee because in doing so, they would be voting against God and their religious values. This is not a unique position that only plagues Tennessee, we see it all over the United States – individuals who vote Republican solely based upon social conservative values knowing full well that those same Republicans screw them over economically. Thus, in order to compete in a socially conservative state like Tennessee, Democrats need to broaden their tent; they need to accept social conservatives into the Democratic coalition and give them a seat at the table.
The election of Roy Herron as Chairman of the TNDP will accomplish this. He is more likely to attract and back candidates in rural districts that share socially conservative values, yet are economically Democratic; something that a liberal party chairman would be less likely to do. This allows Tennessee voters to be ok with voting for Democrats at the State level, while voting Republican at the national level. Some will say that this strategy has already been tried (Rachel Walden over at Women’s Health News asserts this), yet in doing so they miss what has actually happened. Voters in rural districts do not vote Republican because they would rather just vote for the real thing as opposed to the “republican-lite” Democrat. Instead, voters in rural districts NEED to know that their perception of the TNDP as a bastion of “baby killing, pro-gay, anti-gun evil liberals” is not correct. They need to know that they CAN vote in good conscious for an individual who lines up with their beliefs on social issues, as well as protects their economic issues. With the election of Roy Herron as party chairman, this much needed perception shift can be accomplished.
This is what matters to me in Tennessee politics, and one can call me practical, a realist, fighting against my values, whatever. But in the end, I would rather have a Democratic majority in the State Legislature made up of both social/economic conservatives and liberals who I know would most likely not touch social issues, than a Republican majority that ONLY worries about social issues, and lets the people of Tennessee sink deeper into economic disparity.