published Saturday, March 24th, 2012

Tennessee Democratic Party gives chief 33% raise

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    Chip Forrester, Chairman of Tennessee Democratic Party.

NASHVILLE — State Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester is receiving a hefty pay raise despite presiding over heavy electoral losses.

The Tennessean reported Friday that the party’s executive committee rewarded Forrester with a nearly 33 percent salary increase over the past year, bringing his pay to $125,000.

Forrester in early 2010 said he would qualify for a $25,000 bonus if Democrats won back majorities in the state House or Senate. Instead, the elections were a disaster, with Democrats losing 14 seats in the House and one in the Senate. Another 10 Democratic incumbents have announced they won’t seek re-election this year.

“I can’t imagine any reason why it was awarded, not only considering the [election] losses, but that’s a 33 percent increase,” party executive committee member Will Cheek, of Nashville, told the paper. “Nobody is given 33 percent increases in their salary in this economy.”

Party spokesman Brandon Puttbrese said the raise reflects Forrester’s achievements in modernizing the party’s voter data system and promoting the political involvement of groups like Latinos.

Puttbrese said the increase returns Forrester’s pay to the same levels as those of previous chairmen. His immediate predecessor, Gray Sasser, was paid $115,000 a year, with a $10,000 bonus for reaching fundraising goals.

Sasser in his last year exceeded those goals but donated his bonus to the party.

Forrester’s salary was set at $95,000 after he was elected in 2009, despite the objections of several prominent elected Democrats. The next year he welcomed the “win bonus” system for himself and the party’s executive director, Jennifer Wallace.

“We’re going to put all our eggs in one basket, put some skin in the game,” Forrester told The Associated Press at the time.

Forrester at the time claimed he could have taken a straight pay raise but preferred the bonus.

Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney, of Jackson, said he was not consulted about the raise.

“My initial reaction is I am a little surprised at this,” Finney told the paper. “I think that when people give to the party, they do so with the idea and the understanding that their funds will be managed in order to get Democrats elected, and those funds will go into races.”

But executive committee member Mary Patterson called the raise an issue of fairness.

“It’s the same as what the three previous chairs received,” Patterson said. “And he took less for two years when he started.”

State Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney has observed Democrats’ travails in recent years with thinly disguised glee.

“Given the Democrats’ liberal positions being so unpopular in Tennessee, Chip has his work cut out for him trying to win any elections this year, so I’m sure a pay raise is in order,” he said.

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