Opinion » Viewpoint

Change the Paradigm

A Memphis state representative calls on voters to reject the status quo.

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When I was on a flight back into Memphis a few weeks ago, I noticed the Mississippi River. The thing cut all over the landscape for hundreds of miles.

The Mississippi is called a "meandering stream" because it is so crooked. It takes the path of least resistance. When it runs into something, it goes around it, and over a period of time, it cuts itself into the landscape.

We have to ask ourselves why we have so many other things that are crooked in the city of Memphis. It's because we take the path of least resistance. It's always easier not to take a stand, not to say what has to be said, not to do what has to be done, and not to fight the battle that has to be fought.

For too long in the city of Memphis, we've taken the path of least resistance. We've taken the easy path of race or gender or section of town or political party or political standing. We've taken the easy route of not rocking the boat or shaking the tree, of compromising, capitulating, to just get past election day and let everything get back to normal.

We can't afford that any more. We have reached the point in the life of the city where we have to have some change. It's going to have to be immediate, drastic change. We need to change what's between our ears. We've got a system that is broken. We need a check-up from the neck up.

We have to change the paradigm.

I haven't had a fund-raiser since 1995. I don't send out letters. I don't ask for money. If certain groups think I've done my job well enough that they want to send me some money, cool. But they're not going to get anything for it other than what I give to every other citizen in Tennessee: I'll listen to your issues and weigh the pros and cons for the benefit of the people I serve.

Elections in Memphis are decided on personalities. It's not about merit. It's not about performance. It's about names. It's about families. As long as we keep that paradigm in Memphis, we're going to have the same old politics.

We have people who want to start their political careers in Congress. They don't want to start at the Board of Education and help the kids learn. They don't want to go downtown to City Hall and fight the battles of picking up garbage and fixing roads and work with MLGW. They don't want to go over to the County Commission and deal with the deficit and the budget. They want to go to Congress and get their start there.

Money says they can do it. So there are thousands upon captive thousands of dollars that are being pumped into Memphis and Shelby County to tell us that people we've never heard from before are better than those whom we know -- better than those who have driven up and down the road, those who have paid the price and worked the work, made the speeches, taken the stands.

Folks think that all they've got to do is have the right last name. That's ridiculous in a city this size.

It stops with you. None of us are entitled to do anything with a political title if we have not done the work. It's just that simple. I hope that folks will ask a very simple question before they push the button for an individual: What have they done? Have they served in the community? Where do they come from?

We've got folks transferring to Memphis to run for office when we've got folks standing in this front yard who are more qualified. It's in your hands. We need to end the status quo. We need to end the politics of entitlement. It's up to you. Make a statement.

John DeBerry is the state representative from District 90. These remarks are from a speech he made Sunday at a "front porch" rally for District 29 state Senate candidate Steve Haley.

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