Memphis City Council members Bill Morrison, Edmund Ford Jr., and Janis Fullilove are having a lucrative 90 days. Since the August 2nd election, in which all three won Shelby County offices, these "public servants" have been taking home two paychecks — one from the county for their new jobs and one from the city of Memphis for their council jobs. That's because none of the three have done the proper thing and resigned their council seats after winning new offices. But the real issue isn't the double dipping, as galling as that is. No, the real issue is that by not resigning, these three have created a situation that enables the current city council to appoint their replacements, thereby depriving their constituents of being able to select their own council representatives in the upcoming November election. The next city election after that is October 2019, so the three appointees will have the advantage of nearly a year's incumbency in that contest. This isn't how democracy is supposed to work.
This city council is also playing games with three referendums on the ballot for November, and you need to know what's up. The citizens of Memphis in 2008 passed by a 71 percent margin a measure to institute Instant Runoff Voting. They also passed by a similar margin a measure to limit city council to two terms. The council is trying to overturn both of those decisions with deceptively worded referendums. For example, here's how they're tackling that pesky two-terms limit:
"Shall the Charter of the City of Memphis, Tennessee be amended to provide no person shall be eligible to hold or to be elected to the office of Mayor or Memphis City Council if any such person has served at any time more than three (3) consecutive four-year terms, except that service by persons elected or appointed to fill an unexpired four-year term shall not be counted as full four-year term?"
To an uninformed voter, it reads like the council wants to institute term limits — which is clever, because voters have already indicated they favor term limits. But in fact, it's a blatant power grab to extend council members' and the city mayor's alloted time in office to 12 years from the current eight.
The language on the other two referendums — which would rescind IRV and eliminate single-district runoffs — is equally deceptive. The council is attempting to rescind measures that have been passed but haven't even come into effect yet. Vote No on all three. This is some shenanigans.
Such shenanigans have also been happening on a national scale. Since the Shelby v. Holder decision in 2013, in which the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, there have been hundreds of restrictive voting measures passed, all in the South, and all in Republican-controlled states.
The Nation reports that since 2013, there are 868 fewer places to vote in the states affected by the SCOTUS ruling. Arizona, for example, has reduced the number of polling places by 70 percent — to just one polling place per 21,000 registered voters. In the most recent election in that state, voters waited in line for five hours at many polling places. See the map accompanying this column for a full accounting of this nefarious and anti-democratic practice.
Why do elected officials want fewer voters and longer terms in office? Simple. Money and power. It's a plague and it's spreading from the presidency on down to the local level. I can't think of any election in my lifetime where it's been more important to vote than the one coming up in November. We need to throw the rascals out and put a stop to this relentless assault on our democracy.
And speaking of shenanigans. ... You may have seen an insert in last week's Flyer that appeared at first glance to be a promo for the Cooper-Young Festival but was in fact a religious tract. The insert was sent directly to our printer without getting properly vetted by the ad department. We trusted someone and we got duped. Our apologies. By the way, the Cooper-Young Festival is this weekend, so go. Have fun. Tell 'em the Flyer sent you.