Franklin resident Beverly Headley, 70, protests the Republican tax plan at a November rally in town square. // Photo by Brooke Wanser.
By BROOKE WANSER
On a Monday night in December, two dozen middle-aged men and women gathered inside the dimly lit Kimbro’s Pickin’ Parlor on South Margin Street.
The Eclectic Five, a band comprised of five members with a total of 200 years musical experience, played a song called, “Goodbye Cool World,” an upbeat dirge with haunting lyrics about climate change.
“Could have biked, could have hiked, we just didn’t try/ Goodbye cool world, goodbye,” sang lead vocalist Emily Cantrell.
The event was one in a long-running series of “Make it Blue Monday,” a Williamson County Democratic Party social event.
Todd Sharp, a musician and the chair of the Williamson County Democrats from 2006 to 2012, began the event during his tenure with the party as an informal way for party members to gather.
“Williamson County is typically a Republican majority area,” Sharp said, “that’s the political climate.”
But Sharp agreed that Democrats, long the minority party in what is known as one of the most Republican counties in the United States, are coming out of the shadows.
“There’s a rise of activism lately,” he noted. “Most of that is due to the election of Donald Trump.”
Holly McCall, the chair of the Williamson County Democrats, said the party has grown in the past year from 20 or so at meetings to more than 100 at monthly gatherings, with 4,000 on their email list.
Michele Bewley, 37, agreed with Sharp on the timing of the growth, noting that she became involved with the party last year after moving to Williamson County in August of 2016.
Bewley began serving on the communications committee after the party reorganized in February, a process she said happens every four years.
Though she has an advanced degree in neuroscience, Bewley was willing to help out in any way.
“When there’s a visible gap in what the party needs, somebody tends to step in,” she said.
The party’s main goal, Bewley said, is simple: “To elect more Democrats locally and in Williamson County,” she said. “We’re trying to be present as much as we can in the community.”
“We’re not talking about crazy things like healthcare here,” she continued. “We’re trying to tackle what I think are basic things,” referring to the issue of overcrowding in schools.
McCall, 53, who grew up in Franklin, said the county was not always considered a Republican stronghold.
“When I was a kid, things felt like they were pretty much 50/50, maybe tilted to the Democratic side,” she said.
In the 1990s, though, things began to change after the election of Ronald Reagan. “Part of that was Democrats across the state became complacent,” McCall said. “Many reasonable people of both parties were shocked that someone like Donald Trump would get elected.”
At age 14, McCall began working with Cliff Frensley, a Franklin alderman, on his successful political campaign for the state House of Representatives.
Years later, after garnering over 8,000 votes in 2016 in an unsuccessful run against Sam Whitson for state House, McCall turned again to her local community; she was elected as Democratic party chair in March of 2017.
“If we’re going to have a two-party system, both parties need to have a fair shake,” she said, noting that around 30 percent of the county regularly votes Democratic.
State House Rep. Glen Casada, the leader of the House’s Republican caucus, agreed about the importance of party representation.
“I think the most important thing is that there is an active and healthy two-party system,” he said. “There hasn’t been, up to this point.”
But Casada said he believes the uptick in Democratic sentiments is due to “cyclical” political shifts, without referencing the 2016 election.
“For the last four to six years, Republicans have dominated Tennessee, and it’s reasonable to expect Democrats are tired of that,” he said.
With Democrats like Justin Kanew, running for the seventh congressional district seat being vacated by Marsha Blackburn, and Michael Phillips and Lori Clemons running for county commission seats, the county is set to have a Democratic primary in 2018 for the first time since 1994.
“When it comes to raw numbers, I don’t see it changing,” Casada said. “Will it translate into more votes? Not in Williamson County, but in other parts of the state, it will.”
Nonetheless, 2018 could be the year Williamson County Democrats will begin to make their presence known again.
“We don’t expect that everything is going to change all at once,” McCall said. “Our goal is to make sure the 30 percent of the people in the county at least have a voice.”