A One-Party State? 

Republican domination in the legislature continues apace.

An acquaintance who has business dealings in China and frequently visits there was rhapsodizing the other day about the modernity of things, technological and otherwise, in that Asian monolith, and, of course, we all saw the television images of an impressively gleaming Beijing during the 2008 Olympics. Moreover, who among us does not know that China is doing well enough financially that the United States is forced repeatedly to go in hock to it?

click to enlarge elephant_close-up.jpg

All of that foreknowledge prompted me to wonder out loud about something that has puzzled me: How is all of that obvious economic prowess consistent with the fact of continued Communist Party rule? Has the Middle Kingdom somehow tumbled onto the middle way?

The answer was unexpected: "They have more pure capitalism than we do," my acquaintance said. "What they have is not so much Communism as a one-party state that manages things."

Leaving the accuracy of that aside, it caused me to wonder about the developing nature of Tennessee state government, where the executive and legislative branches of government are both firmly Republican and where pending changes in the selection of state appellate judges may tilt the judicial branch as well.

Is Tennessee now a one-party state? Will it continue to be one? And what does that forecast for our future?

Of course, I am well aware that for the better part of two centuries Tennessee was governed exclusively by the Democratic Party, and during that era there was a great deal of us vs. them discord among the factions of that party.

Something like that may yet develop within Tennessee's ruling GOP. It hasn't yet, unless you count the ongoing undeclared rivalry for spokesmanship rights between Governor Bill Haslam and Lieutenant Governor/Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey.

With minimal to nonexistent dissent, the Republican legislature has passed or is passing a number of sweeping changes — many of them, like making tenure more difficult for public-school teachers or abolishing their collective-bargaining rights, relating to education. Still to come is economic legislation — like an expected capping of medical malpractice awards ("tort reform" in the Republican lexicon).    

And there's the social sphere. It was perhaps unsurprising that the state House last week should pass — more or less, on party lines — a bill prohibiting local municipalities from establishing their own workplace discrimination policies.

What was novel was the rationale of GOP sponsor Glen Casada: that there should be a single statewide standard for such policies — all in the interests of industrial recruitment. In vain did various Democrats, including representatives of Nashville, whose own brand-new discrimination ordinance is about to be nullified, point out that local sovereignty was at stake.

Not being judgmental, mind you, but, as with the educational changes and much else, the uniformity argument is being applied more and more up Nashville way — in debate, as well as in outcomes. It bears watching.           • The other shoe has finally dropped in the aftermath of last year's Democratic wipeout in the Shelby County general election. Two sets of shoes, actually.

Norma Lester and George Monger, the former a longtime Democratic activist, the latter a rising young star in party ranks, have been nominated by the Democratic members of the General Assembly to become the party's two designated members on the Shelby County Election Commission. They replace Myra Stiles and James Johnson, both of whom had been frequent targets of criticism in party ranks for what many Democratic activists saw as insufficient vigilance in relation to the 2010 election results.

The entire Democratic slate of countywide candidates was defeated in the August general election, despite the party's having an apparent preponderance of registered voters. Various alleged irregularities, plus a certifiable election-day glitch that temporarily caused an indeterminate number of potential voters to be turned away on grounds they had already early-voted, prompted party activists to bring suit against the Election Commission in an effort to void the election results.

Both Stiles, the longest-serving commission member, and Johnson, the commission's former executive director, joined in certifying the election outcome, and Stiles issued a public statement endorsing the bona fides of her three Republican colleagues and the commission's administration. 

Chancellor Arnold Goldin would ultimately dismiss the legal complaint, but the feeling grew in Democratic ranks that the party needed new blood on the commission, and numerous Democrats lobbied for that point of view with members of the party's legislative delegation, which was charged with making nominations to the state Election Commission.

The state commission will meet on May 4th to confirm the various appointments by both parties to the various county election commissions.

State representative Larry Miller, who serves as chairman of the Democratic caucus within the Shelby County legislative delegation, presided over a meeting of the caucus on Monday, just before the House convened for a floor session. "I had passed out some forms and was still giving out instructions for what we needed to do when they started giving me back the forms with names already on them," said a surprised Miller.

The names of Lester, a nurse, and Monger, a youthful mortgage broker who was active in the post-election legal contest, predominated. Johnson had received a modest number of mentions, but Stiles was omitted altogether, having not been included on a preliminary list of candidates prepared the preceding week.

Meanwhile, Shelby County Republicans have their own decision to make about local Election Commission membership. A vacancy opened up this week with the announcement by Election Commission chairman Bill Giannini that he is resigning to accept appointment as assistant commissioner of the state commerce and insurance department.

Longtime Republican member Robert Meyers will succeed to the Election Commission chairmanship. And activist Dee Nollner and former Memphis city councilman Brent Taylor have both expressed an interest in serving on the commission, joining Meyers and fellow GOP holdover Steve Stamson. The names of former Shelby County commissioners George Flinn and Joyce Avery have also received some mention.

The GOP legislative caucus is expected to make a decision on the vacancy this week in Nashville.

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