“We like Dean?”
“NO! We like Fitz. We’re PROGRESSIVES! Fitz is one of us…”
That’s what I overheard from the table. I was in the middle of an unsuccessful attempt to order a fake brew from the good folks at East Nashville Beer Works when the exchange happened. I had stopped by to see what was the latest doings with Our Revolution Nashville and Middle Tennessee and soon joined them with an obvious-looking soda for my trouble. Teetotalers living their truth are sooooo recognizable in places like these…
Last time we had met…Nina Turner was bringing down the house at the Tennessee State University gymnasium. I had made a mental note to keep an eye on these folks after my first run-in when they organized Ms. Turner’s event (I still have Kat’s voice ringing in my head….) They will likely to be hard pressed to push Progressives into office beyond the “Ring of Fire” that surrounds Davidson County, but it won’t be for a lack of trying.
“Hi. We’re Bernies!” Chuckles all around…
Cassandra Lockridge, facilitator of the Nashville chapter meeting, broke the ice for those unfamiliar with the group. Our Revolution is the movement that was birthed by the Bernie Sanders campaign for President in 2016. Tennessee House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh was set to drop by to pick up his latest endorsement from a Progressive-identifying group.
His campaign had their ticket punched already by Women’s March Tennessee that morning along with a few others, but Our Revolution is the fifty-thousand pound gorrilla of hard-core Progressive activists in Middle Tennessee. If State Representative Fitzhugh is to take the prize this August, much less in November, he will need the Tennessee Democratic Party’s version of commandos such as these to secure the Governor’s office for him.
The Team Fitzhugh campaign strategy has tacked towards rolling up as much of the public-sector and progressive(y) types as possible throughout the state since his campaign began. They know that both these constituencies actually vote in Democratic primaries, and former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, his primary opponent, has the name recognition in Middle Tennessee and a good chunk of the Democratic base going into the polls on August 2nd.
“Progressives” have been part of the modern Democratic Party landscape since the late 1960’s, but they were forced to take a back seat to more centrist candidates and their supporters by the 1990’s both locally and nationally. A Tennessee governor by the name of Phil Bredesen earned plaudits from both sides of the fence by seemingly governing as a business-friendly centrist (who just happens to be a Democrat, shhhh!) Urban Cool versus Rural Progressive is likely not what many Tennessee Democratic Party voters were expecting this time last year…but it’s a strange time in American politics anyway.
“Karl Dean wouldn’t be a complete disaster, but we really would like to help Fitz…” one of the group chimed in. The discussion was centred around organizing the local chapter and holding formal elections for officers. More members were needed help the local chapter push local progressive people and politics, and especially staff up the local Fitzhugh campaign in its final push toward primary day on August 2. There was a broad agreement that the chapter would get behind the eventual Democratic nominee no matter who wins.
But they REALLY like Fitz.
“I have never seen liberals so energized,” confessed a…well, self-confessed…old hippie at the table who was likely old enough to cast a vote for McGovern in 1972. Another wise owl four chairs down (and reeking of journalism) nodded her assent. The discussion had veered back to the Bernie campaign and the movement that sprung from it (did I mention they love Bernie too?) “The question is how to get the millennials involved in voting for Fitz?” Ms. Cassandra redirected…again. The problem was that the majority of the table was not of millennial age.
The problem not being discussed at that moment is that while both Dean and Fitzhugh both have their positives and negatives, Fitzhugh is of an older generation who hails from the rural South. He has sponsored legislation in the past that does give more liberal-minded Tennessee voters some pause for thought, especially Pro-Choice and Pro-LGBTQ+ voters.
Described as a good man from a traditional Southern Baptist background by friends on both sides of the political aisle who know him best, Fitzhugh has been trying hard to walk the knife’s edge as a seemingly liberal-ish Southern Democrat raised with traditional values. In an age where most young people pushing the donkey button today tend to be really, really liberal…that’s a tall mountain to climb if you want catch the projected Blue Tsunami coming later this fall.
(But he’s trying hard. Catch our recent exclusive interview with Speaker Fitzhugh where he addresses his past and present stands on LGBTQ+ issues)
Ms. Cassandra continues: They need to ask themselves as a group what does Our Revolution want to do if Fitz doesn’t win the primary? That is the $64,000 question….but the group agrees to pass on that for the next time. They agree that the main focus for the chapter will be an all out effort for Fitz. Cassandra says that Our Revolution is fielding calls from other local progressive groups asking for support for progressive candidates in other races, but the feeling from GHQ…confirmed by those present quaffing pints at the table (I understand East Nashville’s brew is quite good)…is that they want to concentrate on Fitz until after the August primary.
Then guess who walked in?
“Hi y’all!” Representative Craig Fitzhugh looked sunburned and a little overdressed for an East Nashville pub…but we didn’t mind. He had just come from an outdoor gathering in Murfreesboro. His staffers were rather happy to be inside with air conditioning…pints of good brew were an extra-special plus.
“You don’t know how much I appreciate this endorsement,” Fitzpatrick said as his staffers made the headcount, scanned the table for obvious journalists (my cloaking device was working…) and took a sneak peek at the beer list. “In the last three weeks, voters now know who I am thanks to people like all of you. You have no idea how grateful I am for your support. We’re getting endorsements. We just need to get people to link up…and go vote.”
Robert West, state field director for the Fitzhugh campaign stepped up to second the endorsement, volunteering that he had worked with Our Revolution before and was excited that the chapter had put their faith in Craig Fitzhugh to do the job as Tennessee’s next governor.
Fitz asked for questions…and he got some.
Why did he think he could win? Because he thinks he has the edge in rural Tennessee. He was from there, knows what their concerns are…and is in possession of two secret weapons.
“I know how to connect with people. That’s the master plan and it’s catching on,” Fitzhugh explained. “Last month, no one had a clue about me…but we started reaching out one-on-one through meet and greets and social media…and look what’s happened” he said to laughter.
“Secondly,” he continued. “If we can get through this primary, we have got a real chance to win. We just need Mr. Trump to keep helping us…” his voice being drowned out by laughter throughout the pub. The non-Bernies present couldn’t help but toast that…
Mr. Fitzhugh has acknowledged his smaller financial war chest in recent days, with records showing he has loaned his campaign an amount of the low six figures beside his smaller fundraising tally in the final push to secure the Democratic nomination in less than three weeks, but he’s optimistic.
“The problem is that this is the most expensive Governor’s race in Tennessee history,” Fitzhugh explained. “It’s all going toward stupid stuff. When we get through this stage to the next stage…money will not be a problem.”
“That said…we need your help!” he continued to giggles. “We want to plug all of you in right now. Just volunteer! Our office is easy to find…well, when you find my office…”
“Ok, once you find my office it’s super easy to find again. Just volunteer.”
With that, the pub laughed again. I took my leave as he was taking the group picture with Our Revolution Nashville. Last I saw he was quaffing a brew with his newly recruited young uber-Progressive volunteers.
Southern politics makes strange bedfellows indeed.
For more information about Our Revolution Nashville and Middle Tennessee, click here.
For more information about the Fitzhugh for Governor campaign, click here.
Photo at top: Rep. Craig Fitzhugh with Our Revolution Nashville and Middle Tennessee's Cassandra Lockridge