Thursday, August 19, 2010

Um, no, this is NOT a good idea, folks

Matt Kuhn, former SCDP Chair and aide to outgoing County Mayor Joe Ford, who has been in politics a while now, argues in the Flyer that partisan primaries should be eliminated in Big Shelby:

I must agree with local Republican leadership, which has recently indicated a willingness to dispense with local primaries for county office. As a former chairman of the Democratic Party, I'd implore both parties not to request a call for primaries for local county office. It isn't mandated, and 43 of 95 counties in Tennessee do not conduct county primaries. Shelby County needs to join the list.
That may be an inconceivable statement for a former Democratic Party chairman to make, but local partisan primaries in a state that has an open primary system just doesn't work. Even if we had a closed primary system, partisan primaries for local office are an inefficient way for political parties to select candidates.
Please don't misunderstand me. We don't need to return to the smoke-filled backroom to choose our candidates. What is important is that spending roughly a million dollars every two years to allow five to 10 percent of the voting public to decide the two parties' candidates is a waste of taxpayers' money as well as of local political leaders' time.

At the risk of being called an old hack, which, well, I AM, I have to say, why?  Surely Matt remembers why the GOP called for them in the first place, which many of us fought against years ago: They did it because they had the NUMBERS.  Now that they don't, now the GOP appeals to a "higher calling"?


I can tell you exactly what will happen if we eliminate county primaries: In each race you'll have 5-6 African Americans, 1-2 whites, and the good ole boys will stay in power forever, and the plantation will continue unabated.  Now, I don't think for a second that is what Matt has in mind, but I am telling you that is what will be the result, because that's how it was in the pre-1994 days.

Only three African-Americans were elected countywide under the old system, and all only lasted ONE TERM each: Michael Hooks as Assessor, Minerva Johnican as Criminal Court Clerk, and John Ford as General Sessions Court Clerk.  It was only under the current system that Democrats and African-Americans began to break through, beginning with Rita Clark, then AC Wharton and now Cheyenne Johnson and Otis Jackson (sigh, you can't win them all, I guess).

In a county that will soon officially become majority African-American once the Census figures are in, returning to a non-partisan system is good ole boy heaven.  It will ensure that the powerful keep their positions and inflate the influence of the Poplar Corridor way beyond their percentage of the population.

In short, it's ANTI-little "d" democratic, even more than it is anti- BIG D Democratic, and that's what makes this idea disreputable, no matter the source.

As I have said before, if you want to get the elections right, change the Tennessee Constitution to combine ALL primaries for August and ALL General elections for November.  Thus, you eliminate a superfluous election in May yet allow the parties to pick candidates across the board, allowing for party-building at every level.

Matt's a good guy, always has been, but he is simply wrong here.


Tom Guleff said...

I'd like to hear more on this.

Smart City Consulting said...

Steve: We have the majority in the county in raw numbers and in registered voters. The primaries cost us $1 million. There's nothing in our failure during the recent election that makes me think the primaries are any strong suit of ours. Our party argued against partisan primaries when they started and we were right. We don't need to continue them for spite. We should be winning straight up most of the time, and I would credit changing demographics to our success than the primaries, and the demographics favor us more and more. This is more about getting our organizational act together and stop fighting among ourselves than fighting to keep primaries that should be superflouous if we did our job well.