Opinion » Editorial

Henri Brooks Needs to Come Clean



We are not scofflaws — which means that we respect the laws that are written, the law-enforcement people who enforce them, and the members of the judiciary who interpret them. If we decide that we can't live with

a given law or set of laws, we know that there are bodies of elected officials we can petition to get them changed.  

And we know that nobody is perfect and everybody cheats a little — on the speed limit, for example. But if we're caught cheating, we have to grin and bear it and deal with the consequences.

Events of the past week, while not revising our views in any fundamental sense, have certainly given us cause to rethink the circumstances of our laws, however. Take the controversy swirling around County Commissioner Henri Brooks and the question of whether or not she lives in the district she represents. We know that if we want to vote for a candidate in a given district, we have to first present ourselves to a poll official and allow our personal credentials (including name and specific address) to be checked off a master list of persons registered in the district and considered eligible to vote. This has nothing to do with the matter of whether a photo ID should be required for a voter, as mandated under current Tennessee law. The name and address factors have always been considered essential, since long before that particular law was passed by an over-zealous legislature. No tickee, no votee. 

And it seems to us not only fair but the clear meaning of the law that the same sorts of obligations should be required of those candidates who would lead us and who — if elected, must take an oath to uphold the laws as a basic part of their swearing-in. 

In that sense, we are puzzled at the disposition so far of the Brooks case. As a basic part of her petition to run for the office she now holds, as well as the new one, that of Juvenile Court Clerk, that she is currently seeking, Brooks was obliged to provide a given address as evidence that she could legally represent the voters whom she sought to represent. 

We understand Chancellor Kenny Armstrong's ruling that the County Commission itself, not the county attorney, must attest to Brooks' non-residence and thereby declare her seat vacant under the charter. We have a harder time with his seeming suggestion that the commission must also prove a negative — that Brooks, who has so far declined to give any alternate address at all, does not live somewhere else in District 2, in any of the thousands of households that exist there. Surely the burden should be on the office-holder or candidate to supply such basic information. 

And, to suggestions that a local scribe or two has written of late that a candidate's address is inessential, that maybe we ought to adopt the British system, whereby one can run to represent constituents in places far afield, surely not: For one thing, that would invalidate Baker v. Carr, the Supreme Court's 1962 decision balancing geography with population and guarantees the principle of one person-one vote. We want to keep that one on the books.


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