Jul 15 2011

I’m Sure It’s Not Political

Posted by Steve Ross in City of Memphis

via Polar Donkey

On Tuesday, Bill Dries at the Daily News penned an article looking at just who all would be cut out of their current districts under Council Attorney Alan Wade’s redistricting proposal. Unsurprisingly, no Council members would find themselves in the same districts as a colleague, even though some live within blocks of each other.

What was surprising is that as many as seven contenders, some of whom are the only people who have pulled against an incumbent, have managed to find themselves on the wrong side of “circumstance”. These poor folks had the very thing happen to them that was one of my early concerns, they got written out of their districts, some after spending thousands of dollars on materials, because the process, unintentionally or intentionally, was allowed to drag on.

The Daily News published the names of these poor souls, so I wanted to check and see, in addition to what district they were seeking to challenge, just when they pulled their petitions and their filing status. Here are the results:

Name District Date Pulled Filed Disclosure
Ronald Thorton District 1 April 29, 2011 Yes None Filed
Jesse Jeff District 1 June 6, 2011 No None
Ambi Phillips District 2 July 5, 2011 No None
Jennings Bernard District 3 July 5, 2011 No None from this cycle
Kelly Price District 7 May 31, 2011 No None
Derek Richardson District 7 April 26, 2011 No None
Ricky Floyd District 7 June 27, 2011 No None

It’s already hard and expensive to run for any public office. Additional barriers are just ultimately limiting the choices voters may have before them. And that’s what this whole redistricting thing is, putting up additional barriers as Wendi Thomas rightly notes.

So, this is what incumbency protection looks like Memphis. Don’t worry, you’ll get a chance to see it again early next year when the state legislature starts redistricting. By the end of 2012, redistricting is something lots of folks who want to run for office will have stamped into their brains.

One of the keys to a well functioning Democracy is that the public have real choices, and a real chance to debate the issues of the day to decide who will represent them. While it’s not uncommon for those who hold power to do go out of their way to make sure they get to keep it, something any Memphian with a decent grasp of history can understand, it is pretty interesting to me that five of the seven people who are written out of their districts pulled petitions as much as two weeks before the redistricting proposal was released. Four of them a month earlier.

Certainly, the districts, particularly district 6 and 7 had to change. They were too small. But a lot of this could have been avoided had the Council and their attorney Alan Wade been a little more forthright in their efforts to make this process both transparent and timely. It’s an unfortunate consequence of a Council that has distinguished itself as a body of chronic procrastinators on a whole host of issues that go far deeper than a mere administrative task like redistricting.

If we want to strengthen Memphis, we have to change the dynamics of the relationship between the public and our elected leaders. We have to start demanding more, and better solutions to the challenges we face as a community. If the folks we have in office now, or elect in three months can’t help bring about better and real solutions to our long-term structural challenges, then we have a duty to ourselves and our children to find someone who can.

That’s what this, and every election is about. Finding the people who have the skills and the drive to arrive at solutions. Whether or not the individuals who have pulled petitions or filed for the election have those skills or that drive is an open question. But if the redistricting proposal as it is currently drafted, is passed on Tuesday, there are at least seven candidates that we may never know about one way or the other.