Thursday, May 16, 2002

Patton's daughter to leave leadership of state Democrats

By Mark R. Chellgren
The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — Nicki Patton, the daughter of Gov. Paul Patton, said Wednesday she will leave her position as chairwoman of the state Democratic Party to return to her interest in early childhood development.

        The new chairman is Jerry Johnson, an early Patton supporter who has been a political operative in the governor's office since 1995.

        Mr. Patton congratulated his daughter for helping bring the state party into the 21st century of technology and party tactics and expanding its reach.

        “For 20 years, the object of this headquarters was to help the governor and whatever else happened, happened,” Mr. Patton said.

        Mr. Patton said the party apparatus is now focused on helping legislative candidates, local candidates and federal candidates.

        Mr. Johnson said his view of his new job is straightforward. “My role as chairman will be to elect Democrats, pure and simple,” Mr. Johnson said during an event at party headquarters just outside the capital.

        Mr. Johnson said he expects to add to the already overwhelming majority in the state House, where Democrats hold 66 of 100 seats. “We will and expect to take back control of the Senate,” Mr. Johnson said to the applause of several dozen party faithful.

        Mr. Patton said he will impose the same restraint on Mr. Johnson that he has used on previous party leaders during his administration.

        “This Democratic Party will still not be the attack dog on the Republican Party,” Mr. Patton said.

        The role of waging rhetorical warfare will fall to campaign people and the personnel assigned to the Democratic caucuses in the House and Senate.

        “My responsibility is to work with them, even if they choose not to work with me,” Mr. Patton said.

        Mr. Johnson, though, has already gotten a bit crossways with Republicans. Mr. Johnson acknowledges talking with Republican Brien Freeman about his primary challenge to state Senate President David Williams. Mr. Williams and the GOP central party apparatus have branded Mr. Freeman a Democratic plant.

        Mr. Patton said Mr. Johnson's placement at party headquarters and the timing of it have nothing to do with the Williams-Freeman primary.

        “We're not involved in that primary, and I don't think we'll have any effect on that primary one way or another,” Mr. Patton said.


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