Chip Forrester believes the Tennessee Democratic Party is in a better place now than it was four years ago. He also believes, however, that in all likelihood, the party will be a super-minority in the state legislature after the Nov. 6 election.
I spoke with Forrester, after the news broke yesterday that he would not be seeking re-election as the chairman of the beleaguered party. We talked about the reasons for his decision, the timing of his announcement, and how he can possibly believe those two things at the same time:
So, how'd you come to this decision, and why?
Well, you know, since the summer, I started thinking about what my next steps would be. Did I want to run for re-election or did I want to move on. And I believe, and I've said all along, when I first ran in 2009, I believe this is really a four-year job. That's why I'm working to amend the bylaws. And so I will have served four years, and I also feel very, very strongly about — we've built a team of really capable professionals here. And there is a great new generation of leaders that are capable of stepping up and being a part of our future. So, with that confidence that there are leaders who can continue our new path forward, I made the decision to not run.
But I do want to say, I want to be real clear, that while I've made that decision, my singular focus over the next 12 days will be to do everything in my power to elect Democrats this November. My team is aggressively focused on state House, state Senate, Phillip North, Bo Mitchell, Darren Jernigan, Jason Powell, and I have one sort of final goal. One kind of parting shot that I'd like to have and that's, on Nov. 7 I want to wake up and see "DesJarlais Out, Eric Stewart In." I'm actively working to take out this congressman who had sex with his patient and then attempted to coerce her into having an abortion. He's disgraceful and I hope my parting shot is taking him out.
Was there any particular reason you chose now to get this out there, with the election coming up ...
No, it was just, I was in a conversation with a reporter on sort of what we're doing these last 12 days. One of the points that I wanted to make — in this election cycle, there is a pretty strong financial differential between what Republicans have raised and what we've raised. And there's a little bit of a perception out there that because of that differential we're in trouble, because we don't have as much money we're in trouble. And I wanted to emphasize, we've spent a year — and I talked with you about the new path forward — and the layered voter contact program that we have built here over the last year, has allowed us in the last 70 days to make 300,000 phone calls, door knocks, canvass knocks, and while there certainly is a financial differential, we are winning the ground game. And at the end of the day, that's a more powerful tool. So that was sort of the purpose of my discussion with [Michael Cass of the Tennessean] this morning, he had just been interested in, all this money out there what are you going to do, and then he just sort of casually said, you know, what are your thoughts going forward and I said, well I've made a decision I'm not going to run. Published it. So there's no ulterior motive to the timing.
You mentioned the new path forward — I know I don't have to tell you that there will be people who will argue that the party is in a worse place than it was four years ago. What's your argument for the other side? What would you say to those people and why would you say it is in a better place, assuming you would say that?
I would. I absolutely would say that. And let me explain why. There are two sort of metrics that you can use. One, those who argue that we're in worse shape will use the metrics of how many elected officials we have, how many Democrats are in Congress. Republicans control the General Assembly. So that's one reasonable and logical metric. The one that I prefer to look at, however, is what we have done in terms of the building of our infrastructure. I have modernized — in the last four years I have completely modernized the party's fundraising infrastructure dramatically, which has enabled us to build the largest and most effective staff in the party's history. There are 13 people in the field today, there are well over 25 people on payroll here. We've never had that staff. And that field operation has allowed us to make 300,000 door knocks. We've built an aggressive communications department that has allowed us to hold Republicans accountable for their extreme positions and their handouts from special interest. So what my team and I have done over the last four years is build a foundation upon which we can move the ball forward.
The political shape we're in has been a 10-year slide. It took us a decade to get into the shape we're in. It didn't happen in my administration, it just, the slide continued. My hope is that this foundation that we have built will allow us to move forward in less than a decade. We have 24 House seats today, we hopefully will have more after Nov. 6. We have nine Senate seats, hopefully we will have more after Nov. 6. But we're going to be, you know, unless lightning strikes, we're going to be in the super-minority after this election cycle. We're going to have to continue to move the ball downfield. I believe that what we have built here will allow us to do that.
So, what's next for you?
I have no particular plans. I do have a son who lives in China, and I plan to take a little time off and see my son. As you know, I experienced a pretty difficult personal loss in the death of my son a year and a half ago, and I've got one son and I've spent four years working very hard at this job, and I'm going to go spend a little time with him. And then we'll see what unfolds for me going forward.