Friday, April 21, 2006

Roland or Ford?

Now that Ophelia Ford has been removed, the next question is who does the Shelby County Commission appoint to replace her until the November election?

A lot of Republicans are naturally saying that Terry Roland should take the seat. It's sort of the "last man standing" argument. Ford was knocked out so the next, and last, person in line should get it.

I don't subscribe to that thinking. District 29 is still a majority-black / Democratic district, even if it's trending white / Republican of late. With only eight percent voter turnout a credible argument can be made that the results, while legally binding, are not representative of the district.

Nor am I persuaded by Democrats who argue, as Deidre Malone did on the news the other night, that it's been a Democratic district for decades and so shouldn't be changed now. Maybe the voters of that district, following John Ford's arrest and the uncovering of abyssmal, criminal behavior, were trying to make a new start? Just because something's "always been" a certain way, doesn't mean it will stay that way.

Actually, the results themselves shouldn't be a guage. The Shelby County Election Commission certified what turned out to be a fatally flawed process! Just the results from one precinct turned out to have dozens of errors, at least 15 of which are now seen as determinative of the election That's one precinct, in a county with nearly 150.

The Election Commission should all be replaced. That includes Administrator James Johnson and Commission Chairman Greg Duckett. They at least passively, and possibly knowingly, conducted an election that would produce flawed results. The community has been calling for years for investigation and cleaning-up of the voter rolls. Now is the time to make sure a new crew makes that happen.

We should provide the County with funds (with State assistance, if possible) to have a team go through the rolls to purge inelible voters, to correct errors, to verify addresses where necessary, etc. It can't happen in time for the Fall '06 election, which I guarantee will produce lawsuits and challenges similar to Rolands', but we can work for the future.

In the meantime, I think the County Commission needs to appoint as Ford's replacement an elder, non-partisan politican or community leader to the seat. They should be retired from politics at the least. A retired community or business leader who has not been directly involved in partisan politics in the community would be best.

The emphasis I place on retirement is so that personal ambition doesn't play a role in holding the seat. They should be apolitical if possible, so the seat doesn't become a bully pulpit for one party or the other. But it's likely hard to find someone apolitical, so non-partisan (if nominally Democrat or Republican) is fine by me.

The point is to find someone who it can be agreed across the spectrum that they will act as a respected placeholder. Find someone who will remove attention from the seat and let it fall where it should -- on the election race itself.

I have no idea if the Commission is even trying that approach, or if they are jockeying with each other to switch a vote somewhere. I would hope they can act here in the best interests of the community, respecting the appearance of neutrality and even-handedness.

Of course, this is the same bunch where three of them went to court to overturn the voters' desire to term-limit Commissioners. Self-interested all the way. So my hopes are carefully limited.

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