We have mixed feelings about the ruling Tuesday by U.S. district judge Bernice Donald not to issue an injunction and to let the state Senate vote this week to void last year's special election in Senate District 29.
One feeling is relief that the matter is over with. It had begun to seem that the various litigations, appeals, and legislative processes would keep back-and-forthing without resolution until the winner of this year's regular election in the district was already sworn in to the 2007 session of the General Assembly. In that case, the whole fuss and bother would have been, in a clear strategic sense, moot.
Perhaps deposed Democrat Ophelia Ford, who was never accused of any wrongdoing, will now go on to win both her primary and the general election (although neither will be uncontested). Even in this scenario, however, she -- and the Democratic Party whose standard-bearer she was -- will have suffered enduring damage. The charges made by plaintiff Terry Roland, her erstwhile Republican challenger, resulted in tangible evidence of fraud (two voters apparently rising from the dead to cast their ballots!) and enough "incurable uncertainty" (in the spot-on language of a legal precedent) that two of Ford's fellow Democrats on a six-member Senate investigating committee were persuaded to join three Republicans and recommend voiding the late special election.
Nor should the local and statewide Republicans for whom Roland proved such a surprising champion take any pride in the outcome. Though GOPers were draping their action in Jeffersonian rhetoric and high constitutional dudgeon, it is clear enough that the new majoritarians of the state Senate were practicing partisan politics, pure and simple -- so much so that the Republican chairman of the Senate committee felt moved at one point to chastise his party's Senate leader for both showboating the process and putting it in legal jeopardy.
The residents of Senate District 29 can be properly chastised for failing to vote in significant enough numbers to produce a definitive vote last September. With a month to go in the General Assembly, their representation is now in limbo until the Shelby County Commission (whose members will be under extraordinary partisan pressure) acts to name an interim successor.
On the face of things, the Shelby County Election Commission has housekeeping, and perhaps a major overhaul, to perform on its procedures and oversight capacity.
It reminds us of that old saw, descriptive of some unresolved contest, that goes: All have won, and all must have prizes. Not this time. In the case of state Senate District 29, none have won, and none deserve prizes.
The best that can be said is that all of the players mentioned above still have a chance to redeem themselves at the polls this year. The worst? That litigants and appellants persist in the meantime, beating this dead dog until it too rises from the dead. In which case, the rest of us will surely be inclined to holler.