VOL. 126 | NO. 14 | Friday, January 21, 2011
The No Voting Machine
THANKS, GUYS, BUT WE’LL TAKE IT FROM HERE.
For the first half of the 20th century, one political machine with one man firmly at the controls ran Memphis. Not only did Boss Crump decide who got elected, appointed, fired and indicted around here, he pretty much did that for the whole state, and wielded considerable influence in the national Democratic Party. Memphis mayor for six years and congressman for four, he was the power behind everything for almost 50.
He seemed to think of himself as a benevolent uncle, rewarding nieces and nephews both black and white for good behavior and punishing them for bad. The rules were his determination.
Since then, we’ve had machines that have parked more Fords in office than in driveways, and put a mayor in office five times who, in his words, was not so much elected but divinely chosen. It’s not about Republicans or Democrats, it’s about control. The only difference between parties and machines is the name of the model.
Now, the unruly city kids want to decide something for themselves, but county folks are stepping in just in time to show them what’s best and stop all that foolishness.
The new machine is getting fired up.
When Bill Giannini chaired the Shelby County Republican Party, he ran for Shelby County assessor, and got run over by Cheyenne Johnson, 60 percent to 40 percent. His party pulled him off the cold ground and gave him a seat on the Election Commission to play with. When they got the commission majority, they gave him another chair of his very own. So far, voters have given him nothing, yet he feels qualified – despite all legal opinions to the contrary – to tell us when we can have an election, what we can vote on, and what will be thrown out by judges.
Who the hell does he think he is?
In his spectacularly controversial tenure, Giannini has already been quoted more, threatened with more litigation, and asserted more authority – much of it imaginary – than the last Election Commission chair did in decades. The last chair had a job. Bill Giannini has an agenda.
He is an appointed Lakeland Republican, and he refused to set an election date for weeks based on the opinion of somebody who works for Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett, an appointed Bartlett Republican. The not-so-subtle Sen. Brian Kelsey, a Germantown Republican, is trying to get the state to take over the city schools. No election ever. The slicker Sen. Mark Norris, a Collierville Republican, is pushing legislation to change state law after the fact, put everything off for at least a year, and sneak the county voters in to squash any school consolidation effort. No election now.
These all-white, all-male, all-knowing suburbanites want uppity city folks put in their proper place. Not voting.
Even Crump allowed elections.
When a machine fights this hard to keep you from voting, they know your vote throws a wrench in the works.
Butt out, guys. We’ll drive this one.
I’m a Memphian, and I’m tired of machines.
Dan Conaway is a lifelong Memphian, longtime adman and aspiring local character in a city known for them. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.