Even as suburbs such as Arlington (four credentialed mayoral candidates!) have hot political races on their hands, Memphis itself seems doomed to a more languid electoral season. But at least two challengers for Memphis mayor have some issues
to raise. Shelby County commissioner James Harvey has a bone to pick with incumbent mayor A C Wharton about the city's current generosity in granting financial favors to incoming industries; former city council member Edmund Ford, who has endorsements from a variety of unions, will attack the mayor regarding the paycuts imposed on municipal employees in the current city budget. But Wharton remains a prohibitive favorite.
There is one vacant city council seat, a circumstance which has created a crowded field and a (potentially) interesting race, and one or two incumbents have serious but decidedly underdog opponents. Beyond that, the 2011 Memphis city election looks to be a snoozer. Looking into 2012 and beyond, the same syndrome of predictability could afflict the state and federal races on the ballot but for an altogether different reason. Between now and then, the heavily GOP-dominated Tennessee legislature will have signed off on new districts for legislative and congressional seats. And rumors — which look suspiciously like trial balloons — indicate that some major snipping and cutting and tucking will have gone into creating the new district lines before we all get a chance to vote again. The changes are certain to make it easier for Republicans to get elected and more difficult for Democrats. No special odium should attach to the state Republican Party on this account. Their elected representatives in the General Assembly will just be doing what their Democratic counterparts have been doing for decades.
The term "gerrymander" was named after a 19th-century Massachusetts politician named Eldridge Gerry, who was famous for designing odd-looking districts that were guaranteed to elect members of his own party (named, oddly enough by today's standards, the Democratic-Republican Party). One of those districts was sufficiently lizard-shaped that a political foe was moved to coin the aforesaid term "gerrymander." A look at the existing map of Tennessee's districts reveals lots and lots of such snakes and lizards. And we are sure to get more such, despite the promises of state Republican worthies to be "fair and equal" in drawing the lines. At present, there are eight Republican congressmen in Tennessee and two Democrats: Steve Cohen in the 9th District (Memphis) and Jim Cooper in the 5th District (Nashville). Word is that both districts are due for some serious revamping. Given the nature of local demographics, the 9th District is sure to remain Democratic; Cooper's 5th District, though, is supposedly slated for some kind of division to make the new portions more GOP-friendly. As a national columnist noted, observing this prospect, that would be a shame. Jim Cooper, nominally a Democrat, is one of those bona fide independent types who thinks for himself, not according to the dictates of a party line. Such types are getting to be like whooping cranes in this polarized political universe. So let us say, along with the aforementioned columnist: We hope not.