End County Primaries 

They limit the public’s will and don’t serve the political parties’ interests.

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There is not a Democratic or Republican way to answer a 911 call, fight a fire, arrest a criminal, educate a 4-year-old, administer a federal grant, or provide an air conditioner to someone less fortunate.

So then why put so much emphasis on having primary elections with the main focus being whether a candidate is a Democrat or a Republican, not necessarily a good candidate?

The two parties think it's a good idea to spend a million dollars every two years on partisan primaries for local county offices. Is this a good idea? This is a question the body politic should answer, and the answer should be a resounding no.

I must agree with local Republican leadership, which has recently indicated a willingness to dispense with local primaries for county office. As a former chairman of the Democratic Party, I'd implore both parties not to request a call for primaries for local county office. It isn't mandated, and 43 of 95 counties in Tennessee do not conduct county primaries. Shelby County needs to join the list.

That may be an inconceivable statement for a former Democratic Party chairman to make, but local partisan primaries in a state that has an open primary system just doesn't work. Even if we had a closed primary system, partisan primaries for local office are an inefficient way for political parties to select candidates.

Please don't misunderstand me. We don't need to return to the smoke-filled backroom to choose our candidates. What is important is that spending roughly a million dollars every two years to allow five to 10 percent of the voting public to decide the two parties' candidates is a waste of taxpayers' money as well as of local political leaders' time.

Without partisan primaries, local political parties could have more control, not less, when selecting qualified leaders to endorse in an election. We need to hold the executive committees of both parties more accountable for their party's nominees by giving them an opportunity to demonstrate to voters that their candidates are truly qualified and prepared to run. I believe that a voter would rather have a good candidate who is a Democrat or a Republican rather than a good Democrat or Republican who is a candidate.

It is time to adjust our thinking to the new age of the political process. We need a process that will allow local political parties to interview candidates and then decide through their executive committees who the endorsed nominee from the party will be for each elected position.

The inefficient spending for a primary election is money that could be reallocated toward crime reduction efforts, teachers' salaries, school funding, and hospitals.

A candidate currently needs to raise money for a primary and a general election. Think about it, Democrats: In this cycle, you had two viable candidates for mayor who had to raise money for a primary election, which ultimately resulted in neither having funding for a general election.

Therefore, I pose this question: Do you think it is possible to do with one less election every two years? We already have at least two and sometimes more, with municipal elections in Shelby County. We could change the county charter to permit the calendar for local elections to be in accord with that for state and federal elections. This option could prove to be mutually beneficial for the parties.

Since the inception of local primaries in 1992, when the Republican Party exercised its right under state law to hold a primary election, very rarely have more than one out of 10 voters participated. That results in the parties receiving direction from less than 5 percent of the voting public in deciding on political leaders.

Can any leader afford to charge ahead and then look behind to find no one following? General George Pickett's men were willing to follow him on an ill-advised advance at Gettysburg. Do you think Pickett would have uttered "Charge!" if he knew only 10 percent of his men were behind him?

If you agree that we need to put an end to partisan primaries, contact your local executive committee of whichever party you belong to and encourage them to put an end to primary elections — thereby assisting in stopping this outrageous waste of taxpayers' money.

Matt Kuhn, former Democratic Party chairman, has been serving as adviser to interim Shelby County mayor Joe Ford.


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