The fortunes of the Tennessee Democratic Party have fallen so far that prominent Democrats you’ve never even heard of are chewing off the chains that bind them to the state’s most irrelevant millstone.
State Sen. Lowe Finney — a 37-year-old rising star in statewide Democratic politics — announced Wednesday that the upcoming year will be his last on Capitol Hill, deciding that four more months of being completely immaterial to the way the state is governed was enough. Indeed, going back to Madison County to do whatever Lowe Finneys do when they aren’t caucusing with the other half-dozen Democrats who remain in the Senate like faded paintings in the gallery of an artist who once mattered.
The Tennessee Democratic Party is such a desolate wasteland that its future has now become its past, and its past is now its present.
And its present is about as exciting as a rewrapped package of socks under the Christmas tree.
Not to disparage the Senate Democratic Caucus, many of whom have given years — and in some cases, nearly a century — of service to the state of Tennessee. But that’s just the problem.
With Finney, the average age of a Senate Democrat is 64.
Without him, it’s 69.
Perhaps the most relevant statewide Democrat is House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh — a man who briefly considered running for governor, much as one briefly considers throwing oneself down a staircase, and then decided that being funny on Twitter was a much more valuable and productive use of his time.
There were once thrilling young Democrats on Capitol Hill. Sen. Andy Berke was a darling of the Tennessee Left — such as it is. And Berke, with a wisdom beyond his years, looked around the Senate, decided he was tired of debating the barking fearmongers on the right while simultaneously trying to drag his fellow Democrats into some semblance of organization or, indeed, coherence. Berke bolted Nashville and is now the mayor of Chattanooga, a perfectly lovely city that gets visits from the president of the United States.
And Finney may do the same; rumors abound that he might want to be mayor of his native Jackson.
Certainly, there’s a chance Finney is setting himself up to take a run at, say, senator, but that would require his party to clear the field of conspiracy theorists, second-rate sitcom stars of the early 1990s and relatives of once-respected Democrats. Given the party’s recent statewide efforts, let’s hope he isn’t banking on that.
Indeed, some Democrats have suggested their party not even make an effort at running for senator and governor in the next cycle. Given that the state’s last two statewide efforts were the homespun, affable and completely not-ready-for-prime-time Mike McWherter for governor and the moonbat senatorial candidate Mark Clayton, some political observers wonder if they were not making an effort before.
Meanwhile, Republicans, having conquered the state, are going to build their bench again, launching an effort to put more Republicans in local government, thus creating the next generation of GOP leaders.
Democrats would be wise to try something similar, as all of their young talent is heading for home anyway.
But such positioning would require something we haven’t seen from the Tennessee Democratic Party in years: a strategy. The rump party that lorded over the state for more than a century seems content to live in its past.
Because its past is all it has left.