Now’s Time to Make Key Election Choices

Monday, July 23, 2012, Vol. 127, No. 142

Voters are already making their decisions on an Aug. 2 election day ballot that in so many ways seems to transcend the power of personality that so often rules election considerations here.

Voter turnout in the suburbs is being driven not by names but by ballot questions on municipal school districts.

Voter turnout in the city of Memphis involves choices of candidates in a set of one-time-only races that are a sign that the structure of government is changing.

And in the suburbs as well as the city, voters are selecting seven countywide school board members who will be the entire school board in August 2013 when Shelby County’s two public school systems are merged.

The board’s transition from its current 23 members to seven members is another indication of the important period of change we are in – city and county.

As a much anticipated and watched suburban early voting effort fueled by the municipal school district questions began July 16, some elected leaders thought enough of the debate to remind each other about what is on the ballot and what is not.

For all of the talk about the suburbs finally having their say on what a school system should look like, the municipal school district ballot questions are not a vote on whether Shelby County’s two public school systems will merge. They will.

There are a few questions to be decided once the decisions are made by voters on the municipal school districts. As a result of those decisions, what size will the consolidated school system be?

And can the political forces with different reactions to the initial question of the merger put aside their common tendency we’ve seen too often in the last two years to hobble what the other side is trying to do?

At some point, the elections will be over and it should become time for the real test of any election choice made by the voters – the ability to govern.

There is not much time to get this right. We are about a year from the merger, which is also when the suburban leaders hope to “stand up” their separate school systems.

Once voters in the suburbs make their choice, there is still the matter of the case before Memphis Federal Court Judge Hardy Mays on the constitutionality of the laws the Tennessee legislature passed to move up the timeline for the referendums.

Mays has indicated he wants to decide that before the next in the rapid series of events – Nov. 6 races for school board in those towns and cities that approve the ballot questions on municipal school districts.

Let’s see if we can agree that at the end of this bumpy ride we are not trying to piece back together what existed before, but embrace the work that has already been done on the way to these two pivotal moments.