Behind the Headlines – December 15, 2017

Behind the Headlines – December 15, 2017

– (female announcer)
Production funding for Behind the Headlines is made possible in part by: The WKNO Production Fund, The WKNO Endowment Fund, and by Viewers Like You.
Thank you. – A look at next year’s
local and state elections, tonight, on
Behind the Headlines. [dramatic orchestral music] – I’m Eric Barnes, Publisher of the
Memphis Daily News, thanks for joining us. I’m joined tonight
by Corey Strong, head of the Shelby
County Democratic Party, thanks for being here. – Good evening. – Lee Mills, head of the
Shelby County Republican Party, thank you for being here. – My pleasure. – Along with Bill
Dries, senior reporter, with the Memphis Daily News. So we’ll look ahead, we were
talking a little bit before the show, many, many candidates
and open offices next year, and as people begin
firing up their campaigns, we’ve got state-wide,
in terms of the Governor, we’ve got the Senate race,
we’ve got everything down to judges and so on. We’ll try and get to
as much as we can. We don’t talk a lot of
national politics on this show, but it’s hard not to
start with the Roy Moore, and the Alabama situation
because it’s a Southern state, and because it’s got
Democrats hope up, Republicans are saying
things, so let’s start there. And I actually flipped
a coin before the show, who I would go to the first
question with just to kind of get in the season of elections. For you, Lee, your take, does it
say anything about the upcoming election season,
does it concern you, or is it just
completely its own entity? – No, that’s its own entity. It’s, if you look at Alabama,
Donald Trump had 1.3 million Republican voters in
the 2016 election. Hillary Clinton
had about 700,000. If you look at the election this
is just a referendum on what some would call a
poor candidate. So you had 1.3 million
people vote for Donald Trump, but only 650,000
Republicans voted. So only half of the
Republicans that were eligible, or voted for Trump, showed
up to vote for Roy Moore. – And you would take
that as the failure, the allegations, of whatever
of Roy Moore– – Absolutely. – not something about
the Republican party, or a sheen of Trump on him
that was dragging him down. – No, if you look at national
polls as far as Trump approval ratings, Alabama is one of the
highest states that approves of Trump, Tenneesee is
pretty high up there too. But, now this is just a
very, very unusual thing. I don’t attribute it to Roy
Moore’s horse or anything, just a bad candidate, and
you don’t know whether these allegations are true,
whether they’re not true, but they
certainly played a role. One of the stories
says there might have been 22,000 write-in
votes for Nick Saban. And that wouldn’t
surprise me, but also, the Senator Shelby said,
“Let’s do a write-in candidate.” So that played a lot into it. – Yeah the Republican Senator,
long-time Republican Senator in the other seat
in Alabama said write in “I’m not going to vote
for Roy Moore.” – That’s correct, and I
think that played a big role. – Corey, your take, I mean
obviously Democrats nationally are excited, they see it
differently than what Lee described, what do you all in
terms of the local Democratic Party, and looking ahead
to state-wide elections, what do you take from
that Alabama experience. – Well I tend to agree that
that is a very unique situation, I mean you have more of a
referendum on more of a lack of excitement about a
particular candidate there, but I think you can
glean lessons from it. The ground game, a
very strong ground game, support from the national party, which is something
on the Democratic party we’re looking at heavily
in the state of Tennessee. This is conversation
we’ve had with the DNC, also a good
candidate on our side. Field a good candidate,
that’s a lesson we can learn in the Democratic party. The elected Senator Jones has a
great record in Civil Rights, and that is something that the
community could turn out for, particularly the black community
which voted in droves there, so I think there are some
lessons you can glean from it, and I think we’re paying
very close attention to how does
that impact us. And we looked at the
national election, it’s very correct that
Donald Trump won that area, but also looking at a Tennessee,
or Shelby County specifically, Hillary Clinton won this
area, pretty significantly. And that was also buoyed by
a predominantly black voting populace here, and so that’s
definitely lessons that we’re looking at and the importance
of going to our base as the Democratic party and that’s
something that we’ll be focused on in the very near term
throughout both local and national elections next year. – Yeah and we’ll explore a
lot of what you both said, but let me get Bill in here. – So, Corey, did you have some
folks who went to Alabama to work in the campaign there,
were there some Democrats from
here involved? – So there were a
smattering of Democrats, I think maybe one or two people
on the grassroots council that got involved, but I think
generally it’s these broader organizations, these individuals
and organizations like that, that have gotten involved, some
of the activist organizations that we are
starting to partner with, with this kind of new energy
we’ve seen since last year. – Right, and Lee, did
you have any folks? I know phone-banking
is something that both party bases… – We didn’t do it locally, I’m
sure the national party did, but that’s a good
point that he made. This election was for
the people of Alabama, and the amount of outside
influence was unbelievable. There’s no way, I’ll say no
way, but it’s a slim chance a Democrat wins in
Alabama, a pro-choice, Democrat wins in Alabama without
Roy Moore as the candidate on the Republican side. – Switching to Tennessee,
did, does Bredesen entering, former Democratic
Governor of the state, a more moderate,
and very well liked, he had very high approval
ratings when he left office, does it concern Republicans in
the state that he might get more national money
now, because the DNC, because the state, you know,
this Federal money will say hey, you know, we can
win in the South, we’ve got a
popular former Governor, we’ve got a chance here,
does that at all concern you? – Sure it concerns us,
you’re either running scared, or running un-opposed. But you see that, I think the
demographics of Tennessee have shifted, there’s only really
three or four large Democratic counties, and so it’s
going to be tough for him, but the whole election
comes down to voter turnout. It always comes
to voter turnout, and that’s a problem that we
struggle with in Shelby County, both from a Democratic
Party, and the Republican Party. I tell our folks
that we have a saying, and they can say
the same thing, that “Republicans who don’t vote
are like Democrats.” And the same could be
true from their side, except they have a numbers
advantage in Shelby County, so it’s going to be
all about turn out, and getting good
candidates to run. – And your thoughts on the
Governor’s race as well, so we’ve got a Governor’s
race, big field of Republicans, do you all take
that for granted, I mean there is a sense of
complacency among some Democrats that I know who, “Well, this is
a Republican state”, they control the state house, the state senate,
Governorship, a Democrat is never going to win, it’s just about which
Republican wins the primary. – Well, Democratic
complacency is great for us, it’s not good for them,
but it’s a different state than when Phil Bredesen was here. It’s a red state. That kind of shift started when
Al Gore ran for President and he didn’t win his state,
and it’s shifted since then. So we’ll see. – Corey, your thoughts, first
lets start with the Senate race, you all expect, having
a big name candidate, a wealthy candidate who can put
a lot of his own money in terms of Phil Bredesen, do you all
think you’ll get more Federal, or more national level
Democratic money as a result, both of his
popularity, some years ago, and the win in Alabama? – Absolutely, so
Virginia, New Jersey, cities across the
country, Alabama, there’s a narrative that
involvement at the National level is important, and
so, he mentioned something, yes, there was a lot
of people in Alabama, but in state’s where
people are successful, particularly where
there’s close competitions, tight competitions, yeah,
there’s going to be national money that comes in, whether
it’s from the national parties, or whether it’s from you know,
this PAC, or that PAC, you know the
Koch brothers put a lot of money down here. That happens in every state,
so there’s someone weighing in because there are… all politics are local, but the
stakes can be very high at the Federal level, so. I actually got a phone call
last night from James Mackler, who dropped out of the
race– – On the Democratic side.
– on the Democratic side because Bredesen got in, fellow brothers-in-arms and
there is a desire to make sure that we circle the wagons, and
make sure that we are supporting one candidate. And the decision
was made by Mackler, who did a phenomenal
job to serve the party, to serve the
country, and say hey, I’m going to drop out
and support this effort, so I think that he
will bring attention, and we have two great candidates
on the Governor side as well, in Fitzhugh and Dean. And both of them are
great, seasoned Democrats, and I think that Dean in his
particular case will also bring national attention, so having
that calibre of person run is very good on our side because
that’s something we’ve had trouble with the last few years. – And before I go
to Bill, one more, I mean, the turnout,
as you pointed out, as Lee mentioned I think to, you
know Shelby County is a heavily Democratic area, went for
Hillary in the last election, Hillary Clinton,
what do you all have to do to get turnout in an off year? Do you see, how do
you get turnout, what does that
mean, is it money, is it people, is it
all of the above? – It’s all of the
above, but our focus, and I had a meeting with the
Associate Chair of the DNC when he came in not too long ago. He did a labor
meeting, Jamie Harrison, and the conversation
with him was pretty clear, this race is going to
run through Shelby County, at the state level. If we turn out here,
that has state-wide impact. We have enough votes on
the tree to shake out, that it has to go
through Shelby County. And so understanding that, the
reality is that we have a local election prior to that, and so
if we are able to be successful on a county wide
level in August, then that wil pay
dividens in November. So if people
believe you can do it, and win a county mayorship,
or county level offices here, then we can fold that into
something and keep the momentum going into November. – 15 minutes left, Bill? – Lee, by the same token, the
Republican base outside of the City of Memphis bubbled
inside Shelby County, is the largest base depending on
turnout of any single county in the state as well, so we’ve kind
of got both of those dynamics going on here, and
outside of the city, what would you say the state of
that very significant Republican base is going into 2018. – Corey makes a great point,
they are the largest Democratic county in the state, but we’re
also the largest Republican county in the
state, just as you said. Our voters are excited,
they’re going to turn out. We do a couple
things as Republicans, we always have
multiple candidates, so where they kind of
coalesce around one candidate, we kind of, we’ve got
more people in the race, in almost every race we’ll
have multiple candidates. That helps, I
believe, our turnout, because each individual
candidate will get their folks out to vote. Now another thing that helps us
with is our general election is on the state primary election,
so when people are voting for Governor and Senator, which we
have a lot of candidates in, they’ll be voting in our general
election and because we’re at a disadvantage numbers wise, if
30% of our voters turn out and 20% of their voters
turn out, we still lose. Right? So we have to significantly
increase the number of voters which means we have to address
the apathy which is rampant in both of our parties
in Shelby county. – We’ve got, before
I go back to Bill, we’ve got a graphic we’ll
show some of the dates that are coming up because
there are a whole lot of, there are a lot
of people running, a lot of offices
open, and some key dates. – (Bill)
So in terms of the county offices, we have
a lot of Republican incumbents county-wide,
who are term-limited, some of them are
picking different offices, some of them are
not running for re-election. How does it change the dynamics
from having a lot of open county wide positions in 2010, to being
the incumbents who are moving around in 2018? – It changes it quite a bit,
but the good news is is when Republicans took over in 2010,
Shelby county had a $1.8 billion debt, roughly $2
billion, today we’ve paid down $750,000-$800,000 of that
debt, which is significant, and I think that if the
voters look at the record, they’ll continue to elect
Republicans who have done a good job for the last… – So Corey, can Democrats,
less than a year after the re-organization of the party,
can you do what Republicans did in 2010 in the county elections? – I think we can, and I think
we need to make it a referendum, not just on numbers and
facts on a sheet of paper, but the impact on
people’s lives, and so if you look at, there was
a poverty study done in 2015, Shelby County,
and by Shelby County I mean Shelby County outside the municipality of Memphis is doing
phenomenally as it pertains to poverty, actually a lot
of the citizens there, and in some cases, it’s the
white demographic there are under the
national poverty level. But if you look at Memphis
and Shelby County proper, we are one of the highest
counties and depending on which study you look at the
highest county as poverty, so telling a bunch of
citizens in Memphis, hey, we’re doing
great with the debt, when the majority of them
are living in abject poverty, well, what about me? I would like some of those
resources to come to us. So we’re going to make it a
referendum on the lives of the people in the city,
do they have an economy that will work for them, services
that work for them, do we have job opportunities
that are meaningful, and currently we
have a county government that’s very concerned
about building new roads in Eads, Tennessee, and doing
things at the margins, as opposed to doing actual
meaningful work at the core of the citizens of Shelby County,
which Memphis is a big part of. And so we’ll make it
a referendum on that. – Well, I take
exception to that, Shelby County is doing
great, we have good leadership, the reason Memphis is doing bad
is because Memphis has suffered from bad leadership,
bad Democratic leadership for decades. So to blame this on Republicans
is kind of not real fair. The county is doing good because
Republicans have run the county for seven years, the city
could do good if Republicans ran Memphis city. But unfortunately it’s
Democrats that run Memphis city, so really the blame has
to be shifted inward, and I think that’s
the big problem. – Corey I know the Democrats
have talked a lot about the 2016 State House race
where Dwayne Thompson, the Democrat,
upset the Republican incumbent Steve McManus. Does that indicate that things
are changing in the county outside of the city? – In that district it
may, but not anywhere else. I’m not going to talk bad
about Representative McManus, but I don’t believe,
my personal opinion, that he worked as hard
as maybe he could have, that he spent as much
money as he should have. And they got a lot of outside
influence from the national party, from the state party,
so again the outside money, and the outside mailers and the
callers and the things they did, they did it right,
because they won. I think had our
side not really been, they were blindsided. They didn’t expect as
much resistance as they got, and the Democrats
took one from us, but I think we can
take that one back. – I suspect your view is
going to be different. Is Dwayne Thompson’s election
an opening for the party in the county outside of the city? – In the same way that I said we
can glean lessons from Alabama, we can learn lessons
from what Dwayne did there. Did Dwayne get some support? Yeah, because he’s
a good candidate, but Dwayne worked his butt off. Dwayne knocked on doors,
Dwayne knew that community, Dwayne understood
the demographics. And I’ll tell you,
it’s funny you… people that live at
the same address. It’s interesting the
number of people that can say, “I know that campaigns that have
knocked on my doors over the past 20, 30 years.” In Cordova, a lot of those
people now know Dwayne Thompson because he’s come to
them consistently. So a candidate that’s present,
and a candidate that connects with you personally, and lets
you know we’re going to try to expand that, and scale that up
across the county with our good candidates, and so we’re
learning a lot of lessons from Dwayne, and we serve on an
executive committee together, and I can tell you
he’s a hard worker. – Alright, let’s talk a
little bit about crossover. Lee in 2010, a lot of
Republicans told me that the key to success was that the
Republicans had nominees who had crossover potential,
that some segment of Democrats could support. Is crossover still the factor it
was then in what I’ll call the ‘Age of Trump’ generally? – Yes. It’s very important
for us, because again, we’re at a numbers
disadvantage, right? I said if 30% of
our voters turn out, and 20% of their
voters turn out, and they vote straight
ticket, then we lose. So we need some of
that crossover vote, and I think we’ll get it. There’s things that Republicans
and Democrats can agree on, crime, jobs,
education, those things, we can agree on. And I think our
candidates will stand out, and people will see that
they’re the better candidate. I hope. – Do you- Go ahead Bill.
– Does… Does that change when you
get to the state level though, with the Senate race,
and the race for Governor? – No.
I mean… yes, it does. In Shelby county, maybe, but
Shelby county is kind of an off-set, the same as
Nashville and Knoxville, but state-wide,
no, I mean Republicans are going to vote
for Republicans, and Democrats are
going to vote for Democrats. And the crossover vote
really doesn’t matter, except maybe in
those few counties. – And let me just continue
with the crossover question, because it seems to be a
different dynamic among Democrats, and for the
reasons that Lee mentioned, Corey, that Democrats have the
advantage in terms of numbers, and you all had quite the
discussion about crossover and who’s a Democrat, and who’s not
a Democrat in terms of who the party supports. So what’s the role of crossover
with your candidates in the county-wide elections? – A crossover is a
symptom of a problem. If a cand… I had this conversation
with a group of Democrats at Trezevant Manor. A woman whose been a
Democrat, she’s 96 years old, so she’s been
a Democrat longer than my parents have been alive, right? And she says, “Yeah, I
didn’t know y’alls candidates, but I know this one, and I know
his parents and I know he’s a good person.” And so that means we either
don’t have good candidates or we’re not working hard enough
to get the records of those candidates in
front of our voters. That ends here. So, you know, my parents
grew up picking cotton, I’ve worked you know, I come
from a rural area where my roots are, I worked in the
navy for eight years, we’re going to work. And so my party is
kind of, they’re afraid, it’s about to come, but we’re
going to work to make sure. It’s not going to
be a referendum on, hey, we don’t
know your candidate, that’s not going
to happen anymore. And also I think with the
national things that are going on, and the state of
the County, that people, good people are
getting involved, and running for
office on both sides, but particularly on
the Democratic side, and so that gives me hope
that not only when we work that we’re going to be
able to get to the voters, but also to
give them a candidate that they’ll be happy about. – Let me as, we
talk about, excuse me, we talk about crossover and
we’re talking about a referendum almost, you know the
Republicans in what was that, 2010, used the
unpopularity of Obama in, among Republicans, I mean the
visceral unpopularity of Obama, specifically Obamacare, they
parleyed that into state-wide races, into state
House, state Senate, even local. Do you worry Lee, that… I don’t think anyone questions
Trump’s popularity in rural Tennessee, but
that among educated, suburban, particularly women,
at a time of the MeToo moments, we’ve got a President
that has allegations of 15, 20 , sexual harrassment,
I mean, you know all kinds of accusations, then you’ve got
this Mueller investigation. Is there a drip,
drip, drip with that? I don’t want to necessarily
debate whether those are true, but they’re out there, and
they’re talked about constantly and they’re off-putting
for a lot of educated, increasingly it seems, it
seems, people point to, educated suburban,
traditionally Republican voters, just maybe they
just don’t turn out. Because of that. And does that begin
to reflect on local, at the local level? – So my job as Shelby County
Chairman is to take care of Shelby County. And I think you’re correct. But I also say that this is
the reason that I divorce myself from President Trump when we
talk about local elections, ok, he said local
elections matter, that’s true. And here’s the point, I have
to, my job as Republican Party Chairman is to
highlight our candidates, our state candidates,
and try to divorce ourselves from Donald Trump,
we have to do that, because it’s
exactly the way you said. There was a lot of,
this was a weird Presidential election right? We had Republicans
voting for Democrats, Democrats voting
for Republicans, it was a crazy
Presidential election, so you’re exactly right,
but our job is to focus on Shelby County, and try to keep
the national politics out of it. – Do you worry that that
divorce you’re talking about, could get so bad, that you
almost have to divorce yourself from the Republican brand,
so instead of talking about, you know David
Lenoir as a Republican, you talk about David Lenoir. You talk about the
candidates and the personality, do you worry that that affect
within the next six to eight months could be, that you’re not
just divorcing yourself from the elected President, but
from the party he represents? – No, no. I don’t think it’s that bad. But we concentrate
on our candidates, that’s what we do in
the Republican party, we, and they have
started to do that. He, he’s a good
Chairman, I can tell already. – Y’all just met, right? – Yeah, we just
met before the show. But I can tell because
of the way he’s talking, because Democrats have suffered
for years in Shelby County because they haven’t
put up good candidates. They just haven’t
been good candidates. Senator Lee Harris
is a great candidate, ok. So it’s going to be tough, and
we’re going to concentrate our personalities, and
their strengths, and not worry about
the national politics. – We’re throwing
so many names out. Lee Harris, who used
to be City Council, is now a state Senator and is
in the race as the Democrat for County Mayor, and I
should say that David Lenoir, who’s now the trustee, who I
mentioned is running for County Mayor as well. For you all, how much do you
use among Democrats certainly, but again maybe among
moderates and independants the unpopularity of Trump. When we’re talking
about the Assessor race, or we’re talking about
the County Mayor race, does Trump’s name help you all? Or do you just need to
focus on issues and candidates? – I don’t think so, I
mean, where’s our base? Our base is in… in our black, urban
communities, right? And so it’s hard for me
to go to South Memphis, it’s hard for me to
go to Smoky City, Whitehaven, Frayser,
and say Trump’s name when the street isn’t paved. When I’ve got to walk 20
minutes to catch a MATA bus, like, that’s not playing, right? And so we have to focus on
candidates and issues as well, so I agree with
Lee with that 100%, but also connect what we’re
talking about to a change in someone’s life. And so that is what
we’re working on, and I agree 100% that if we
get too involved in national politics, yeah, we’re
concerned with healthcare, there’s hospitals closing
all over Tennessee because… that, that’s happening, but our
focus and the thing that’s going to convict our voters is how
it’s going to impact their day-to-day lives. – We have so much
we didn’t get to, we’ve got just a
couple minutes left, maybe we just get both your
take on rank-choice voting, which is… Bill can you kind of
give everybody who doesn’t necessarily follow this
the way we do– – Yes.
– what is rank-choice voting, what’s the issue, and then get your
guy’s opinions on that. – It’s also called
instant-run-off voting. City voters approved it as a
City Charter amendment in 2008. It basically eliminates a
separate run-off election, when you go into a vote in a
single member district city council race, you would instead
of voting for one candidate, you would mark
your preferences one, two, three,
or one-of-two, or however many
you want to. If none of the candidates
get 50% plus one of the votes, then as things stand now, you
would go to a separate run-off election among the top two. With rank-choice,
or instant run-off, there would be a second vote
count of the same ballots, where you would take
the number two votes, from the lowest vote total
and apply it to the other candidates, and you keeep on
doing that until someone gets a majority of the voters. So, with that– – Right now I think
we’re in local, you’ve got the
court to get clarity, because the state election
commission said it wasn’t possible, it’s a
complicated issue, I’m giving you almost no time,
your take on what should happen on this issue. – I support it 100%. The voters of the City
of Memphis said yes, and it is being done in
progressive cities across the country, and I think we
should move in that direction. – Your take on that. – I’m not sure about it, but I
think the state has an issue with it, I’m not sure it’s
legal on the state level. – Which if they clarify
would you like to see it happen? – Have to see, becaues
it’s a huge expense. – Ok. Not enough time for that issue,
but thank you all for being here, thank you Bill,
thank you for joining us, join us again next week. [dramatic orchestral music] [acoustic guitar chords]


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