I offer an incomplete review of the TN Democratic Party Summit since I was only able to attend on Saturday. What I saw was a success in the sense that Democrats are clearly focused on the 2010 election. Whether that focus holds and whether the plan unfolds remains to be seen. But the focus and the energy were undeniable.
I heard the phrase "big tent" quite a bit. So I'll try to break down how I think I heard the Democrats using the phrase.
Engagement at all levels: People with all kinds of roles in the party participated actively. Candidates, state legislators, county chairs, state party volunteers, campaign managers, and new activists were all well represented. It's hard to design an event that meets everyone's needs, but it's impressive that all these groups came to the table expecting to get something they could use.
Rural and urban: One panel explicitly dealt with electing Democrats in rural areas. Walton Robinson spoke about Rep. Eddie Yokley's ability to win his district consistently despite being targeted by Republicans. The first panel dealt with what "unites us as Democrats," and there was substantial agreement between the rural and urban folks in their descriptions. The words "care" and "opportunity" came up quite a bit.
Big money and grassroots: Speakers frankly acknowledged the skirmishing between the so called "big money guys" and the grassroots activists. But everyone seemed to think that the fight was either over, settled, or bracketed for now. Rep. Mike Stewart summed it up in his opening remarks by saying that everyone knows that both are needed. He highlighted the importance of volunteers for the upcoming House races.
Conservative and liberal/progressive: These differences on abortion/choice and "gay marriage" were also frankly acknowledged. Speakers continued to emphasize the big tent with respect to these issues. From where I was sitting I noticed some progressive annoyance at characterizing the issue as one abortion instead of choice. But speakers tried to make a positive out of the difference by contrasting the Democratic big tent way with the Republican way of only allowing a pro-life/anti-choice perspective. They also began building the case that, regardless of differences on social issues, Democrats are unified on education and the economy--issues on which they felt they could connect with voters and win.
So the big tent took on many shades of meaning. And based on Saturday's sessions, I'd say the Democrats could be in for a big tent revival.
Additional thoughts on GLBT issues at the summit: By no means were GLBT issues central to the substance of the summit. But there were moments when I saw the headway we are making. Rep. Mike Stewart talked about the adoption ban in his opening remarks and how Democrats can stop such measures if they take back the House. Leader Gary Odom introduced me on the first panel as his constituent. It was a small thing, but it meant a lot. He and his staff have always had an open door when I've wanted to talk and I appreciated the fact that he didn't back away from that. After the panel was over, I received a warm welcome from dozens of participants who wanted to help with the bills that we are working on this session. I was also impressed with Caucus Chairman Mike Turner who discussed the issues of marriage and civil unions and acknowledged his appreciation for the gay constituents who had supported him.
I know we continue to have a lot of work to do with both parties on GLBT issues, but I saw signs of forward movement today. It's a big tent, all right. It includes people who just aren't comfortable with us, but it's big enough to allow us to continue working.