We need to know who’s a ‘D,’ who’s an ‘R’ in local races

Friday, June 21, 2019, Vol. 43, No. 25

The Metro election arrives in about six weeks, the absolute most momentous Metro election since – well, since the last one, I guess. Some 100-plus candidates are running for one office or another.

How’s a poor voter going to sort the political wheat from the chaff?

More to the point, how’s this poor voter – who hasn’t cast a full Metro ballot since Phil Bredesen was running the show – supposed to choose from a field of relative strangers?

Here’s a suggestion: Identify all the candidates by political party.

We already do that for members of the General Assembly, governor and such, which is just the Metro Council writ large. If it’s important to know what party a candidate for any of those offices belongs to – and it is – then why wouldn’t that same importance apply to the people competing to run our city?

Or to run it aground, some might fear.

As it happens, the district I’m about to move into has only one candidate, the incumbent. Barring the unlikely possibility that Barack Obama suddenly emerges as a viable write-in choice, said incumbent will be victorious with or without my consent, despite sporting a mustache that would do a silent movie villain proud.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But the residents in District 7 have eight people on the ballot, with no incumbent. District 21 has five, including an incumbent; Districts 2 and 30 have four each, with an incumbent only in 2.

Plus, every Nashville voter is faced with choosing five at-large members from among 15 contenders and a mayor from among 10.

Maybe you don’t need any help with your choices. Maybe you follow the Council actions right through every supplemental appropriation, abandoned easement right and interfund tax anticipation note, ticking off how each member votes and whether it meets your approval.

If so: Get a life.

And it’s true that anyone willing to spend the time to dig into past campaigns of some candidates can draw some conclusions about party affiliation. John Ray Clemmons, for instance, a candidate for mayor, is a Democratic state representative.

That’s no help, though, with the many candidates who haven’t left a trail of prior public offices in their wake.

We’re without party identification because state law stipulates municipal elections be nonpartisan, unless specified otherwise by the municipality’s charter. The Metro Charter is silent on the topic.

Simple solution: Change it for next time.

If you’re one of those folks who claim not to be able to discern any difference between Democrats and Republicans, let me help:

Generally speaking, Democrats want an efficient, responsive government that provides needed services to all residents without regard to their race, creed or economic status.

Republicans want to abolish taxes and give everybody a gun.

OK, that may be a slight oversimplification. Reasonable people might disagree. But there are important philosophical differences between the two parties, and you probably fall on one side or the other.

In an effort to bring some informed opinion to the discussion, I sought input from the leaders of both parties, to see where they stand.

“Of course, as a Democrat here in Davidson County, I would certainly be in favor of partisan local elections,” says Gary Bynum, chairman of the county Democratic Party. “We like to ensure, as Democrats, that we have progressive leadership in place.”

Bynum says he understands why the election is nonpartisan and why some people favor that approach. “But at the end of the day, politics is always partisan,” he says.

“And when out canvassing for your candidate … that’s the first thing I’m asked, whether they are Democrat or Republican. Voters want to know that.”

My point, in a nutshell.

As to the Republican informed opinion: The GOP chairwoman, Melissa Smithson, given several opportunities, did not respond to my question. Feel free to draw your own conclusion from that. I’ve certainly drawn mine.

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville.