Martin: Democracy in action: Thank you, Mark West and Chris Anderson

Martin: Democracy in action: Thank you, Mark West and Chris Anderson

December 9th, 2013 By David Martin in Opinion Columns

Mark West, president of Citizens for Government Accountability and Transparency, drops off 1634 signatures petitioning Chattanooga's same-sex partner benefit ordinance to Brenda Hixson at the Hamilton County Election Commission.

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a column bemoaning the lethargic performance turned in by Chattanooga's electorate during last year's city elections. Since then, City Council's lightning-rod domestic partners vote, championed by Councilman Chris Anderson, has seemingly awoken a sleeping giant.

I wasn't sure they could do it, but Mark West's tea party offshoot, Citizens for Government Accountability and Transparency, surpassed the total amount of signatures needed to force the issue to referendum. Not only did CGAT meet the number of names necessary, they sprinted past the marker, more than doubling the required amount.

Admittedly, I've had mixed emotions about the tea party since day one. However, when it comes to results, no contemporary group compares to what they've been able to accomplish since they burst onto the scene just a few short years ago. Whether you like them, hate them, or are ambivalent about them, you've got to hand it to them -- they get things done. Period. And Chattanooga's chapter should be a case study for other civic organizations near and far about how to effectively mobilize a citizenry.

So what happens now? Well, as Isaac Newton's third law of motion tells us, "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." With that in mind, I'm sure there will be a large-scale push-back against Mr. West and his allies by various groups inside and outside Chattanooga.

When Chattanooga's City Council took up this ordinance, it looked very much like it could be an open-and-shut case similar to what was experienced in Collegedale and Knoxville. However, CGAT threw down the gauntlet, delivering the first major challenge to the increased domestic partners momentum that has been building across Tennessee. The upcoming August referendum will be the first major showdown on this issue in our state.

My hunch is that eyes statewide will be following how the Scenic City sorts through this. Barely two months ago, 26 Metro City Council members in Nashville asked the mayor to form a committee to consider domestic partner benefits for city employees. How Chattanooga voters handle the referendum will likely be discussed at length around Davidson County and other points across the Volunteer State.

I anticipate domestic partner benefits to be the predominant conversation piece in local political discourse for the next eight months. If you're running for office around here, no matter what the position, you better have a statement ready on the issue. Yes, even if that office has no influence on this particular matter.

Whatever happens on Aug. 7, Chris Anderson and Mark West have done us all a favor. Both of them, and their supporters, have shown us a vivid picture of why local government is important. I've been following conversations from both ends of the political spectrum for the past few weeks, and I have seen folks claim that this is a religious issue, a civil rights issue and an economic issue. Regardless of the perspective you subscribe to, there's no question this dispute is relevant to all of us. Why? Because in many ways, it defines us as a community. It tells us what our values are. It tells us tells us where we've come from and where we're going.

So, who do you want to be, Chattanooga? When you look back on this man-in-the-mirror moment decades from now, what do you want to remember? Whatever the answer, I hope it includes momentum. Action. Taking a stance and fighting for it. Because lethargy certainly won't get us anywhere.

Thank you Mark and Chris. We needed this.

David Martin was the recipient of the 2013 "Civic Impact Award" by the Young Professionals Association of Chattanooga. He is also a recent graduate of Leadership Chattanooga.