There have been numerous analyses and breakdowns of the results of last week's election in Shelby County. The bottom line is that Republicans once again waxed the Democrats in the contests for most local offices, from county mayor on down to lesser functionary titles such as assessor, trustee, and recorder of deeds.
The thing that seems puzzling on the surface is that Shelby County is majority African-American, and Democrats outnumber Republicans by a substantial margin. The Republicans ran no black candidates. So why did the GOP dominate the local ballot?
Some black Democrats blamed white members of their party for "crossing over" and voting for Republicans. They were castigated because they weren't loyal to the party. The local Democratic party chairman said in a post-election interview that crossover voters should just go ahead and "join the Republicans." He later apologized for that short-sighted sentiment.
This muddle-headedness is a result of old-school, binary thinking: dividing the electorate into arbitrary categories of black or white, Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative. The problem with that is that fewer and fewer of us are binary creatures. The same electorate that reelected a white Republican, Mark Luttrell, as county mayor, twice elected a black Democrat, A C Wharton, to that same office just a few years back. Steve Cohen got 66 percent of the vote in a majority black district.
Binary thinking doesn't take into account that we're no longer divisible into two neat, predictable packages, one black, one white. Voters are getting smarter. Ophelia Ford got trounced; Henri Brooks and Judge Joe Brown got stomped. They were rejected by thousands of Democrats and Republicans, black and white. And there's a Hispanic vote now, which seems totally overlooked by both parties.
Sure, there are those who'd vote for a "yellow dog" if the party label is right. But the era of party loyalty trumping all else is in rapid decline. Most of us are independents with a small "i." We don't care what party holds the office of recorder of deeds, we just want the job done right. To turn that office over, you need a compelling candidate with a compelling message. (Suggestion: "Lemme record your deeds!") But the fact is, if the guy in office hasn't screwed up, he'll likely get reelected.
In local politics, the only people still keeping that binary score of party winners and losers are those running the political parties and those who report on the process. If the Democrats want to win more elections, they need to start respecting the electorate's intelligence. They need to find more candidates like Lee Harris and Cheyenne Johnson and Steve Cohen — and they need to stop thinking in black and white.