Monday, February 23, 2009

Hard Ball Vote Makes It Tough To Play Ball

Matt Kuhn deserves better.

He’s smart, attractive and has an impeccable pedigree, his mother a long-time Democratic activist and his father the Shelby County attorney on and off for a couple of decades.

However, the decision by the Democratic majority of the Shelby County Board of Commissioners to name Mr. Kuhn to a vacant set formerly held by Republican David Lillard does him no favors.

Political Marker Or Marked Man

He is now a marked man in expansive District 4, where he is likely to be a pariah among the people he has been elected to serve.

In this demonstration of hard-ball politics by the “D” side of the board of commissioners, they’ve hardened the lines for compromise – always tenuous these days – and sacrificed fair play on the altar of opportunism.

Sadly, it’s Mr. Kuhn who will now pay the price.

Thrown Into The Well

To give the Democratic commissioners the benefit of a doubt, perhaps they have heard so much for so long about the Shelby County Republican Party reaching out to African-American voters that they decided to try their own twist on the strategy – trying to reach out to the solidly Republican district outside of Memphis in Shelby County by proving that Democrats don’t have horns.

It will make little difference. The Democratic commissioners have sent Mr. Kuhn into a district that is so solidly Republican that normally no Democratic candidates even file for District 4 positions.

Meanwhile, the power in District 4 lies with the five town mayors, who have solidly Republican roots, meaning that they are likely to give him lip service but they aren’t going to give him any results that he can then use sell in a future election.

Post Patterns

While we have indeed entered a post-Republican era in Shelby County, it’s still years before that will be happen in District 4. That’s why someone like Tommy Hart would have made more sense for the district. First, he has been a county commissioner for that district before and there would be no time lost figuring out how things work. Second, he took the oath that he would not run for election when his partial term ended.

We’re not sure if Mr. Kuhn took such a vow, but he might as well have. The chances of his being elected by the voters of District 4 are akin to one of us here hitting the lottery.

In the end, the action by the seven Democratic commissioners suggests that they have not reached the maturity of the former Republican majority, which did in fact appoint Democrats when seats held by Democrats became vacant. In fact, on those occasions, there was never any consideration of doing otherwise.

About Winning Or Governing?

Perhaps, that was in a time when there was a stronger air of civility and stronger emphasis on consensus at the Shelby County Board of Commissioners. Ironically, those were the days when Vasco Smith and Jesse Turner Sr., firebrands for the civil rights movement, were members.

They could at times vociferously express their disagreements with the white majority, but because they knew how to skillfully negotiate and compromise in ways in which they could guide the ultimate outcome, the board of commissioners could still maintain the respect between its members that was necessary for the effective governing of Shelby County.

Today, the currency for the commission appears to be all about power and a brand of “stick it to them” political philosophy. Some say that it reflects the same level of understanding by African-Americans of Caucasian voters as is so often the reverse. These observers suggest that a motivating factor was the naivete that just being white is the primary qualification outside of Memphis.

Powerful Temptation

It’s hard for us to embrace such a theory, because of the deep experience possessed by some of the long-time Democratic Party leaders now on the board of commissioners. To us, it seems that they simply could not resist the political temptation to engage in political oneupsmanship.

While it is tempting to say that the Republican push for partisan county elections 15 years or so ago has finally come home to roost, it’s more concerning that Democrats’ years of promising that they would be fairer and more egalitarian than Republicans has quickly fallen prey to the lure of majority power.

Most ironically of all, there is the chance that the vote may in the end be the equivalent of the Democratic members shooting themselves in the foot. There have been plenty of issues in the past couple of years where each member had the power to influence an issue because every vote was necessary for the 7-6 majority.

A Possible Miscalculation

Now, there is a margin for error, and if one Democrat holds out, there is the chance to put the seven votes together without the need for every Democrat to be on board. It will prove interesting to see who’s vote is now devalued as a result of Mr. Kuhn’s election.

In brushing aside Republicans pleas for District 4 to be served by the same party that the voters there have supported in every election for 20 years, the Democrats also sent the message that the environment in county government is likely to be more adversarial and decidedly less civil.

The hard-ball vote may have left members of the majority party smiling at their cleverness, but it was ultimately a shallow victory. The real win would have been if the Democratic majority had demonstrated in a dramatic and powerful way that they are about healing the divisions between us and about proving that they are intent to be a vehicle for a community bound together by a common respect and a mutual commitment to a shared future.


Anonymous said...

Sidney Chism strikes again! There's always a Kuhn around to help his schemes.

Anonymous said...

The party in power often falls prey to the false sense of "domination". District 5 now becomes a "must win" for Democrats. Although they will be favorites, 10% voter historical voter turnout is ripe for swing districts to change hands.

Tom Guleff said...

I thought is was funny that the post before this was "The Grand Old Party Can’t Find A Grand New Party". I guess the Dems were feeling left out. :)

Anonymous said...

When the Republican majority in Nashville decides it's payback time, we can all thank our county commissioners.

Anonymous said...

This is Matt's reward. As Shelby county Democratic Chairman he was horrible. However, he was also a lackey for the Chism/Herenton machine. So Sidney rewarded him for his loyal service with a commission seat, regardless of any consequences.

Anonymous said...

The question still remains, what is coming up on the commission that is so important to require another democratic vote?

Wintermute said...

I'd say it's Mulroy's vote that has been devalued; and he did it to himself.

Smart City Consulting said...

We got an email asking about the contention by Democrats that the Republicans brought this on themselves by sticking with Tommy Hart when the Democrats were willing to vote for Linda Kerley. It's interesting "inside baseball," but in the end, it's political justification and we were writing about fair play and comity.

And then again, there's the question of how much of this is spin and how much is reality.

Smart City Consulting said...

By the way, Tom, we thought the same thing as this one was being written.

Anonymous said...

The Kuhns are snakes Father and son.
I wish they would just bite each other and be done with it.

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