The Tennessee Democratic Party is overhauling its process for choosing a new party chair.  

For the first time, the TNDP Executive Committee has hired an outside human resources consultant to make the process more professional and akin to a hunt for the CEO of a statewide organization.

Candidates typically send an announcement to the 66 members of the Tennessee Democratic Committee and the additional six ex officio members who vote for chair. Lobbying of the 72 voters commences, with candidates making personal calls and visits across the state and speaking at forums organized by affiliated groups.

By the mid-January vote, commitments have been made, lcoyalties have flipped and rhetoric has turned heated.

  A few of us on the executive committee decided we wanted a more formal process for selecting our chair — an actual interview for an actual job.   – Chris Anderson, TNDP Executive Committee

The upcoming election should be different.

Executive committee members say the goal is to end up with a chairman who has the skills necessary to rebuild flagging TNDP operations rather than the election being a glorified popularity contest. 

Chris Anderson, executive committee member for state senate District 10 in Hamilton County, said the new process came out of a desire for greater structure.

“A few of us on the executive committee decided we wanted a more formal process for selecting our chair — an actual job interview for an actual job,” said Anderson. “This should result in electing the most qualified person for the role during a time of great possibilities. 

Frank Hundley (Photo: New Leaders Council)
Frank Hundley (Photo: New Leaders Council)

Christy Pruitt-Haynes, the consultant engaged to conduct the interview process, has her work cut out for her. Even before three-term Chair Mary Mancini announced Nov. 7 she would not run for a fourth term, challengers were declaring their intent to seek the position and within hours of her announcement, more joined the field. Ten candidates are currently vying for the job but with no deadline for application, others could enter.

  • Theryn Bond, campaign manager for Rep. Torrey Harris, D-Memphis
  • Kate Craig, chair, First Congressional District and chair, Washington County Democratic Party
  • Chris Finley, two-time candidate for Congress, 6th District
  • Dr. Jane George, chiropractor, former state senate candidate.
  • Robin Kimbrough Hayes, attorney and former candidate for U.S. Senate
  • Frank Hundley, campaign manager for Sen. Heidi Campbell, D-Nashville, and Nashville Metro Councilmember Sean Parker
  • Rep. London Lamar, D-Memphis, former president, Tennessee Young Democrats 
  • Wade Munday, executive director of The Addis Clinic and member of the Democratic National Committee
  • Hendrell Remus, assistant director of emergency affairs for Tennessee State University; member, TNDP Executive Committee
  • Civil Miller Watkins, member, Fayette County Board of Education; chair, Fayette County Democratic Party

Thus far, executive committee members have been surveyed for their thoughts on the qualities and skills needed and from the process. Pruitt-Haynes has developed a working job description.

Rep. London Lamar, D-Memphis (Photo: Submitted)
Rep. London Lamar, D-Memphis (Photo: Submitted)

For the first time, candidates have been asked to submit cover letters, resumes and letters of recommendation and agree to a background check. Each will complete a questionnaire that Pruitt-Haynes will distribute in a blind format so committee members can evaluate them without bias. Finally, each candidate will go through an interview process in early January. 

One person close to the process said the intent is to ensure all voting committee members get the same information in the same format, rather than allowing candidates to tailor their messages based on what they think committee members want to hear.  

“I’m pleased with the way the process is evolving,” said Executive Committee member Kelly Baker, Franklin, Senate District 23. “After the last chair’s race with its focus on politics and personalities, we realized we needed to think about the position more strategically.” 

Civil Miller Watkins (Photo: Civil4tn.com)

Chair candidates had their first crack at publicly introducing themselves at forums held Wednesday and Thursday. Both forums were sponsored by the Tennessee Holler, a progressive digital media platform, and Change Tennessee and featured five candidates one night and four the second. 

Pruitt-Haynes offers consulting in leadership development, diversity and strategic planning. She has a roster of high-profile clients, including Vanderbilt University, Dollar General and the Memphis Grizzlies. 

The TNDP Executive Committee meets Jan. 16 to vote on its next chair. 

A disclosure for Lookout readers: Editor Holly McCall was a candidate for TNDP party chair in 2019.