Meeting the Speaker

My good friend LWC gave a rundown of the busy social calendar that has been Memphis politics over the past couple of days. I’m not usually one for social affairs, or crowds, but the event last night at Playhouse on the Square was really too intriguing to ignore, so, I made the long 4 block trip.

The actual event was a pretty short affair, but I got the opportunity to actually speak with Speaker Williams and I have to say, I was impressed.

Based on some of the commentary from GOP leaning bloggers and writers throughout the state, I came into the event with the idea that Williams was merely a naïve puppet. This characterization greatly underestimates the Speaker. Speaker Williams may not have the time logged in the State House that others have, but instead of a handicap, I feel this actually helps him.

The truth of the matter is that there are any number of people who can run the day-to-day business of the House. While Williams may prove to be an efficient manager, his sense of “doing what’s right for the people of Tennessee, despite partisan considerations”, to paraphrase him, is what flipped the script for me.

The over-reaction of the state GOP in response to his ascension to Speaker, says more about what is wrong with that party than anything about Williams. Certainly, his vote represents a great deal of self-interest, but it is also a vote against the partisan problems that have marred the body in the past. The detailed account of what really went down, presented by Memphis’ very own Jackson Baker, bears out this reality.

I have no doubt that Williams and I will be on the opposite side of many issues before the State House, but his willingness to put pure partisanship aside for the good of the state actually makes those disagreements easier to stomach, even though I will still scream to high heaven.

So, while I’m sad that Democrats lost the House, I’m hopeful that the experience will give them pause, and help keep them together in new and ultimately more balanced ways. Further, I think they’ve learned a valuable lesson that power that sits too long becomes stale, and eventually decays. The world is moving too fast for lifelong legacies to endure, and there are plenty of arguments to prove that even in slower times they served to obstruct progress as much as anything else. The world operates better when people are forced to be better through vibrant competition. I think we’re seeing that era dawn here in Tennessee, and even though my side lost this time, I’m glad it’s happening.

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