by Steven Hale
In a letter sent to alphabetically challenged *former Democratic Senate primary candidate Larry Crim, State Election Coordinator Mark Goins says there's not enough time for another Democratic primary to make up for the one Mark Clayton won last week.
Goins also says what Chip Forrester essentially told us last week — that Forrester had a chance to keep Clayton off the ballot but didn't because, you know, there's a lot of candidates and only five days to find out if any of them believes the federal government is secretly building a 400-yard wide superhighway from Mexico City to Toronto.
"Although Chip Forrester had the authority in April to disqualify Mr. Clayton, he did not do so," writes Goins.
Clear enough? He continues, later on in the letter.
"Essentially, the grounds you and [Crim's attorney Michael Rowan] stated to me were that Chip Forrester as chairman of the Democratic Party failed to properly carry out his duties charged to him under the Tennessee Democratic Party's bylaws," he writes. "Let me be clear, that it is not within the state's purview to determine whether Chip Forrester is adequately performing the duties assigned to him by the party. Ultimately, if you file a contest based on those grounds, it will be up to the Tennessee Democratic Executive Committee to determine whether the alleged failure of its leader Chip Forrester to execute his duties would be grounds for a valid contest and that 'justice and fairness require' further action."
For their part, two Nashville members of the executive committee avoided putting all the blame on Forrester, but didn't try to absolve him either.
"It shows the general weakness of the Democratic party right now, that there wasn't the ability or foresight to avoid this," says Nashville attorney David Briley. "Everyone wants to blame Chip for it all. He's not to blame for all for all of it, but, you know, he's the one who decided he wanted to be in charge. So, he kind of gets some of the blame for it. It's a general problem, I don't think it's [all] Chip's fault, but he's going to take some of the blame for it for not having thought about it a little bit and done something more to avoid it."
With all that said, Briley noted that he gives "zero credibility to anything Larry Crim wants."
Former party chairman Will T. Cheek was less concerned with Forrester's culpability and more troubled by the debacle as further evidence of the hole the party finds itself in.
"The problem is not Mark Clayton," Cheek tells Pith. "The problem is that the Democratic party was not able to come up with a candidate. That's the problem. Anything that you do with Mark Clayton, all you're doing is treating a symptom. Throwing a guy off the ballot or doing anything of that nature — what's the point if you don't have an alternative?"
So what's the disease?
"The disease is that we're so far underwater, we couldn't get anybody to come to the surface and run for the Senate," he says. "That's the problem. If Bill Purcell had decided to run for Senate, or Phil Bredesen, or some A-list candidate, none of this would be an issue."
Cheek says Forrester, who has been chair for three years now, has to "bear some responsibility" for where the party finds itself, a position Cheek described with a familiar sunken-ship analogy.
"That's the real problem is where we are, and the fact that we didn't have a candidate," he says. "You can't recruit candidates from the bottom of the sea."
Proving he may not be as crazy as some think, Clayton has been successfully at keeping his name in the press. He told the Associated Press this week that "if Public Advocate is a hate group, then the state of Tennessee is a hate group," to which we say ... hey, you might have a point there.
Read Goins' letter to Crim here, in PDF form.
*This post has been updated to clarify the fact that Larry Crim is not a Democratic Senate candidate, but rather a former Democratic Senate primary candidate.