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Do You Have a Choice in Your Voting District?

October 21, 2012

It’s time to vote. As we look at sample ballots, we’ve been wondering: why is there so little competition for Shelby County seats to the Tennessee General Assembly?

Fourteen House seats and two Senate seats are up for election. Of these 16 races, all but two are uncontested. Only two House seats (Districts 86 and 88) give voters a real choice.

(Quick Reponsible Citizen test: Do you know what Tennessee General Assembly House and Senate District you live in?  Do you know who your district incumbents/challengers are?)

Voters in city of Memphis districts basically have all Democrat party choices. Voters living in Shelby County outside of Memphis basically have all Republican party choices. Does that mean, if you have a  Memphis address, you think, breathe, and live only Democratic ideas? Or if your street crosses the city limit boundary, you care only about voting Republican?

While you might get that idea from the rants of certain local politicians and newspaper columnists who live to divide and stereotype us, the facts are that many folks in these parts are not so trapped in partisan political thought that they don’t have minds of their own ~ and, on occasion, use them to vote.

Isn’t the purpose of political parties to give voters a clear choice among distinct approaches each election?

Isn’t it our duty ~ as free citizens blessed with the right to vote ~ to consider different solutions and approaches to the important issues that affect our common life? To  hold incumbents accountable and consider challengers’ views with a reasonably open mind?

Even those incumbents who seem to be doing a good job should be required to work hard for re-election.

You would think that Memphians, whether native or newbie, would know enough about  Shelby County’s history under Boss Crump to hold those suckers accountable.

While it’s true that Democrats control the Memphis City Council  and the County Commission, and beyond the city borders, Republican voters are as plentiful as pricey coffee; don’t make long-term bets on conventional wisdom holding steady. Times change, parties change, district boundaries  change. Even people change.  (Admit it. You didn’t see that Al Kapone endorsement for Dr. George Flinn coming.)

And because you won’t believe it until you hear it ~ and in this case, see it ~ check out the video:

It took the modern Tennessee Republican Party 40 years of hard work in the trenches to make Tennessee red all over.  For too many years to count, Republicans didn’t even bother to run in local races in most middle and west Tennessee counties. Then, after changing those local dynamics county by county, in 2008, Republicans  took control over  both houses of the Tennessee General Assembly ~ the first time since 1868.

But in the vast majority of Memphis districts, voters are still given just one choice (Democrats) to support Memphis issues. How do you think that is working for us? When a party is out of power, its elected officials had better be good at  finding common ground in bi-partisan coalitions, or they are wasting their time and (your) votes.

Right now Shelby County elects 14 members of the State House. There are only 99 seats in the House. That means that Shelby County controls 14% of the State House. Shelby County also elects six members of the State Senate. There are only 33 seats in the Senate. That means Shelby County controls 18% of the State Senate.

So why aren’t both parties doing their jobs when it comes to raising up good candidates in each district?  (Here’s a Shout Out to local Republican and Democrat party leaders:  Yes, that’s your job!)

What can you do to make sure you have good candidate choices in the next election? What should you do?

First, the obvious: Register to vote. Second: Be engaged.  Know the facts about local issues. Get informed and get involved. Third: Hold your elected representatives accountable.Watch what they do. Tell them what you think about their votes. Invite them to come and talk with your local community or church group. Ultimately, encourage people of wisdom, passion and integrity to hold office ~ in both parties.

Support the best candidates with your money and your vote. If you’ve made an ideological choice, get involved with your local party organization.

Many responsible citizens tend to dismiss political party work as somehow meaningless. But unless good folks get involved and work to recruit and to elect good candidates, how can we ever have good choices?

How do you think we get better choices for Memphis and Shelby County?

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