Looking for leaders in all the right places

Looking for leaders in all the right places

August 3rd, 2014 in Opinion Times


In Thursday's general election and Democratic primary, the Times endorses:

Governor: John McKamey

U.S. Senator: Terry Adams

3rd District Congress: Mary Headrick

27th District, State House: Eric McRoy

County Mayor: Jim Coppinger

County Commission

District 1: Randy Fairbanks

District 6: John Allen Brooks

District 7: Ezra Maize

District 8: Kenny Smith

District 9: Melinda Bone

General Sessions Court, Division 1: Christie Sell

Juvenile Court: Yolanda Echols Mitchell

Public Defender: Ardena Garth

Criminal Court Clerk: Gwen Tidwell

Board of Education

District 3: Jim Watson

District 5: Karitsa Mosley

District 6: Ballard Scearce Jr.

District 8: David Testerman

District 9: Steve Highlander

Supreme Court Judges: Retain

Domestic Partner Ordinance: Yes

In just one mile of U.S. 127 north of Dayton Boulevard, more than 120 political signs line both sides of the busy highway.

Some red, some blue, some both - they all silently shout for our votes on Thursday.

At the same time, however, far too many people are looking for far too many ways to limit our voting rights.

We saw it last year when the Supreme Court struck down a central provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

We've seen it over recent months as a number of states - mostly Southern - have moved to change their election laws without the prior approval once required from the Justice Department. Since early 2013, at least nine states, including Tennessee, have passed measures making it harder to vote. Most of the new rules have to do with voter identification, but some also require proof of citizenship and others limit the time polls are open or reduce the number of locations where people can vote.

Now we see the specter of limited voting rights again with a new Tennessee rule that limits the right of election commission members across the state from voting on the primary ballot of a party in which they are not registered. In other words, a Democrat couldn't make a cross-over vote on the Republican primary ballot, and vice versa.

For now, this dubious new Tennessee rule only affects 475 people, and violating the rule threatens their election commission memberships. But what is today's trial balloon could be tomorrow's new reach.

That would be so wrong, so morally bankrupt, so disenfranchising to our basic freedom of exercising a vote to choose our best leaders.

How do you choose a car or furniture to serve you for years to come? Do you go only to one dealership? One store? Or do you shop around?

We have to shop around for good leaders, too. That's why this editorial page has encouraged a primary crossover vote for Weston Wamp in the Republican primary. Mary Headrick, who is unopposed in her Democratic primary, is a wonderful choice for the Democratic candidate for our 3rd District seat in U.S. House of Representatives, and hopefully she will win and make a wonderful congresswoman. For the record, she is a purist and does not think Democrats should cross over to the GOP ballot for the primary.

But what if she doesn't win? In the 2012 general election, she garnered only 91,094 votes to Chuck Fleischmann's 157,830. She's a much better candidate this year than then: More polished, more confident. But the state and district are still very, very Republican, and Fleischmann - who has tied his wagon to a tea party no-tax oath - is powerless to govern, even if he was so inclined. We Tennesseans - Democrat, Republican and Independent - deserve two good choices, not just one.

The cross-over options allow us an opportunity to shape our choices and ensure that no matter how the November vote goes, we will have a real leader who is not handcuffed by his previous naiveté.

Also in trying to limit voters to their registration choice (which seems every bit as straight-jacketed as Fleischmann's no-tax oath), there is the simple matter of how voters actually do view themselves and choose to vote. Haven't many voted for both Democrats and Republicans - and even third parties - when choosing a president or a congressman or a county mayor?

According to the Hamilton County Election Commission, 22 percent of us are registered Democrats, 30 percent of us are registered Republicans and a whopping 47 percent are "other" registered voters.

That seems somewhat in keeping with a recent Pew Research Center study that found only 21 percent of Americans view themselves as consistently liberal or conservative. Another 40 percent say they view themselves as "mostly" liberal or conservative, and 39 percent say they are decidedly "mixed" in their ideological political views.

Shall we tell those "mixed" and "other" folks they must register one way and vote that way only? Of course not.

Yes, politics often stink. Yes, democracy is often messy. But it also is the great moderator, and in this time of a Congress that cannot do anything because no one will talk to the other party, moderation is clearly in demand from nearly all of us: that whopping 79 percent who told Pew we view ourselves as "mixed" or "mostly" liberal or conservative.

That's why an unexpected group of voters, black Democrats, swept in to save veteran Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran, a Republican, from losing a primary squeaker to a tea party challenger in June. (It's safe to say the tea party and its disciples who have taken Grover Norquist's "no tax" oath are clearly in the way-far minority 9 percent "consistently conservative" category of the Pew study.)

That's also why looking for love and leaders in all the right places is often a two-ballot journey.

And it's why Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia should continue to be among the 14 states that use an open primary process.

Voting is our right, and so is voting exactly the way we want to.