Two weeks ago, when Matt Kuhn, on the strength of votes from his fellow Democrats, was appointed to fill a District 4 vacancy on the Shelby County Commission, someone suggested that the appointment be made unanimous. That drew an objection from commissioner Wyatt Bunker, who also represents District 4, a sprawling area that takes in the suburban-rural rim of Shelby County and is heavily Republican in sentiment.
Bunker had been among a holdout minority of Republicans who had supported former commissioner Tommy Hart through the contentious eight ballots that it took before Kuhn was able to amass a majority. And Bunker declined to permit a vote of acclamation because, as he made clear, he thought appointing a Democrat was grossly unfair to the voters of District 4, amounting to a disenfranchisement. Those voters had, after all, voted overwhelmingly for Republican David Lillard, who had vacated his seat to become state Treasurer. And the GOP coloration of the district had been evident in election after election.
And even after Kuhn had taken the oath and been seated, Bunker, who at present represents Position 2 in District 4, let it be known that he would run in 2010 for Position 3, Kuhn's new seat, if the Democrat chose to seek election in his own right.
So how have the Democratic newbie and the Republican diehard gotten along since Kuhn took his seat? Actually, quite swimmingly, as the two demonstrated Wednesday during committee meetings in which they provided verbal backup to each other and voted along similar lines. They frequently consulted with each other throughout the morning. Afterward, Kuhn praised Bunker for his general participation in things and Bunker offered Kuhn props for the latter's conduct in chairing the commission's committee on delinquent tax property.
Both commissioners made it clear that they expected to work together in harmony on most matters for the benefit of their constituents in District 4. "Our differences are based purely on political views. I do consider him a friend, and I think the more I get to work with him, the more I'm going to like him. I'd hate to have to run against him," volunteered Bunker. "I look to Wyatt as a person who's representing the interests of District 4 very well, For the good of District 4 we'll do many things together. You might be surprised by the number of things we agree on," responded Kuhn.
The two commissioners' common purpose was symbolized further by the co;incidence that both happened to wear similar-looking hounds-tooth blazers on Wednesday. As far as that hypothetical reelection battle goes, Kuhn said upon accepting the appointment that he regarded it as an interim position only, and he repeated that assertion Wednesday.
Oh, there remain differences. Both commissioners were asked about the desirability of reverting to non-partisan elections, which were the case before the advent of partisan countywide primaries in the early '90s, at the GOP's initiative . Kuhn said he'd prefer that, Bunker said he'd resist going back to the old way, even though the Democrats, for demographic reasons, are likely to command a majority on the commission from now on out. "I think party politics is how we hold things accountable," he said.
And, upon reflection, Kuhn said, "I agree with that."
The sense of general comity between the two got so strong that, when they were asked to see if they could actually wear each other's hounds-truth coats, they complied and made the effort - Bunker making over his J.C. Penney three-button jacket to Kuhn and trying on Kuhn's two-button Oscar de la Renta.
The exchange seemed to go over okay, until --
"It's too tight in the chest and shoulders," Bunker complained.
You see? There's only so much you can do to minimize partisan differences.