With so much attention focused on the overriding drama of the Clinton-Trump presidential race, relatively scant attention was paid in many quarters to developments on the Tennessee political scene. Though it was always highly unlikely — oh, let's call it impossible — that the current Republican super-majority in the General Assembly would be appreciably modified, it was encouraging to see what remains of the seriously weakened Tennessee D
emocratic Party try to regather itself and make challenges in a goodly number of legislative races.
We say this not for the sake of any party allegiance but in homage to the largely forgone virtues of the two-party system. There was a time, not too many decades ago, when that principle was run up the flagpole and saluted by all Republicans running for office in Tennessee — everywhere, it should be said, except in large pockets of East Tennessee, where there was no need, since GOP loyalties had dominated there since the Civil War. But in the state at large, Republican loyalty was something of a novelty — literally so in the case of fiddlin' Roy Acuff, the country music great from points east who became the token GOP gubernatorial nominee in 1948. But ol' Roy's Night Train to Memphis was, as everybody knew, destined to stall out somewhere well the other side of Nashville.
Times change, people change, and now it's Democrats who are trying hard to beg a ride to the state capital. There are only three counties among the state's 95 — Shelby (Memphis); Davidson (Nashville); and Hardeman (Bolivar) — where the party can be counted on to generate a consistent majority vote for its statewide and national candidates. There are 26 Democrats in the 99-member state House of Representatives; there are five Democrats in the 33-member state Senate.
There are numerous reasons why this state of affairs bodes ill for Tennesseans, even those who lean Republican. And they are the same reasons why exponents of the Tennessee Republican Party used to crow so hard for the existence of a two-party system back in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. It is no accident that there were streaks of progressivism and reform in the state GOP of that time. One-party government had left serious dissidents nowhere else to go, and corruption, which would find its full embodiment in the regime of Democratic Governor Ray Blanton in the late 1970s, was a fact of life beyond ideology.
Such circumstances as the arrogant primacy of the NRA in state-government affairs and the matter this past year of the now expelled Representative Jeremy Durham (R-Franklin), whose conduct exposed the long-standing toleration of predatory sexual conduct in the legislature, demonstrate that a serious challenge to the status quo of the current GOP super-majority is in order, and a regenerated Democratic Party could and should be part of the reform process.
In that context, it is encouraging to note the early signs of what would appear to be serious 2018 gubernatorial campaigns on the part of two notable Democrats, on the part of former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and another respected mover and shaker from that city, businessman Bill Freeman, who made a foray into Memphis just last week.
We say, have at it, guys! A little competition is in order.