Opinion » Letter From The Editor

Crap Shoot in the 8th

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I'm thinking of moving to Tennessee's 8th Congressional District so I can vote for Karen Free Spirit Talley-Lane. Karen, or "Free" as I like to call her, is an independent candidate, one of 20 people vying to become GOP Congressman Stephen Fincher's replacement, including four other independents, two Democrats, and 13(!) Republicans.

There are 13 Republicans running because the 8th District has been gerrymandered into a lockdown seat for the GOP. All one of these 13 boys has to do is win, say, 20 percent of the votes and they're on their way to Washington, D.C. The actual election in November is a foregone conclusion.

And thanks to the GOP gerrymandering of the 8th District that occurred after the 2010 census, I wouldn't have to move very far to vote for Free — just to the "finger" on the map that juts its way deep into east Memphis, into the heart of what used to be Democratic 9th District Congressman Steve Cohen's district, including the area where many of the city's Jewish voters live. Huh, what could they have been thinking?

No problem, they gave Cohen Millington in exchange. Seems fair, right?

Gerrymandering is the source of our congressional gridlock. It's a system that allows office-holders to literally pick who gets to vote for (and against) them. The majority party in power after the census obtains the right to draw the borders of our districts and other various political bailiwicks. They almost always do so in a way that splits and scatters the opposition party's voters and solidifies their own. That's why members of Congress are very seldom defeated, unless it's by a member of their own party in a primary. Since they don't have to work across party lines in their home districts, there's very little inclination to do so once they get to Washington. They just have to keep the homefolks in their own party happy.

And that's why there is a mad scramble among 13 Republicans to win the GOP nomination in the 8th. Once they're in, they're in for as long as they want to be there.

Just eight years ago, things were reversed. Longtime Democratic Congressman John Tanner controlled the 8th District, winning election after election. In 2008, the GOP didn't even field a candidate. Tanner won the general election with 180,000 votes to his write-in opponent's 54 — almost literally 100 percent of the electorate!

Then Tanner retired, and in the 2010 "wave" election, Fincher beat Democrat Roy Herron. In the post-census redistricting, the 8th District got gerrymandered to ensure that it would remain Republican, at least until the next census. That was done by moving much of eastern Shelby County, a GOP stronghold, from the 9th District to the 8th.

Which is why the Memphis television and radio airwaves are now filled with ads from Republicans, each trying to outdo the others with their red, white, and blue credentials. David Kustoff is going to end Islamic terrorism; George Flinn is going to abolish Obamacare (with the help of those two white-haired biddies who love him so); and real conservative Brian Kelsey is going to be the most conservative conservative who ever conserved. It's why we are being visited by the dregs of the recent GOP presidential nomination process — Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and others — who are pitching for one or the other of the Goopsters. It's why city boys are putting on their best button-down plaid shirts and visiting tractor pulls and county fairs.

There's been little independent polling, making this race a crapshoot in the most literal and metaphorical sense. The early thinking was that Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell had the inside track, which would be fine with me, frankly. He at least tried to push for Governor Haslam's expansion of Medicare, indicating that he has a brain and actually cares about the area's uninsured population and Shelby County's overburdened hospitals. Having another congressman from Memphis couldn't hurt. It certainly beats having one from Frog Jump, like Fincher.

I mean, as long as Karen Free Spirit Talley-Lane is out of the running ...

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