Almost lost in the furor over partisan trench warfare that saw a Democrat, Matt Kuhn, appointed this week to fill a commission vacancy in a district indisputably dominated by Republicans, was a simple root fact: There is no law of nature or of civil society that requires that seats on the Shelby
County Commission be parceled out according to partisan criteria. That state of affairs derives from a 1992 decision by the Shelby County Republican Party to begin holding primary elections for countywide offices, which up until that time had been free of partisan considerations. Ultimately, the Democratic Party was forced to follow suit, and that is why we now have a commission divided into seven Democrats and six Republicans rather than according to some more natural pattern — say, urban vs. suburban.
We sympathize with the outrage now being expressed by spokespersons for the selfsame Shelby County Republican Party. However its members choose to justify it, the insistence by a Democratic core group on the commission to repudiate a long-standing "gentlemen's agreement," one that had mandated same-party substitutions to fill vacancies, was a brazen and cynical power grab. The consequences in lingering resentment and ill will are incalculable for a governmental body that in recent years had substantially subordinated its partisan differences to legitimate disagreements over policy matters per se.
We wonder, in fact, why Kuhn, whose recent chairmanship of the local Democratic Party was made more difficult by factional differences of a different kind, wanted more doses of the same bad medicine.
Yes, the Shelby County Republicans must accept responsibility for creating this mess in the first place. But if they seriously are seeking a remedy, they should now take the lead in abandoning primary elections for local offices. And the Democrats should then follow suit.
Bursting Another Bubble
Attendees at the Economics Club's monthly gathering last week got the chance to witness how much the nation's mood has changed in this past month, the first of at least 48 in which the Obama administration will be calling the shots. The speaker that night — Ron Gettelfinger, national president of the United Auto Workers union — symbolized that change, as did the fact that he received a most cordial if restrained reception from a group that included many of the city's major business leaders. Both the union leader and his audience seemed to have new appreciation for each other's predicament in this time of severe recession/depression. "Let's not kid ourselves," Gettelfinger said. "The problem is not the unions at this point; the problem is the fact that our economy is in the ditch."
Later, Gettelfinger mentioned that, from the time he took over the UAW presidency in 2002, he never once met with President Bush or with any top administration officials. Now, Gettelfinger noted that "I have the personal cell-phone number of the secretary of treasury's chief of staff."
We can have (and do have) a wide variety of opinions as to what role America's unions have played in contributing to our current malaise. One cannot avoid the obvious, however: A "failure to communicate" does nobody any good. Ever.
The White House is no longer occupied by a president content to live within a bubble, keeping at arm's length all who disagree with his opinions and policies. Now, perhaps we can get down to business, working together to put the Bush housing and financial bubbles well and truly behind us.