Mark Norris, Orwellian 

Written in the bleak postwar year of 1948, George Orwell's novel 1984 prophesied a time when government manipulators would so corrupt the language that even basic terms like "war" and "peace" or "love" and "hate" would lose their distinctions and come to be interchangeable. Words could mean their opposites in the dystopian future that Orwell imagined.

Now, we understand that state senator Mark Norris, majority leader of the Tennessee Senate, has duties to his constituents in suburban Shelby County and that he is determined to support their desires to avoid the ongoing merger of city and county school systems and to establish municipal school systems of their own. We also understand hyperbole as an indispensable tool of the politician. A case of that undoubtedly occurred when state senator Jim Kyle of Memphis, the Senate's Democratic leader and thus the opposite number of Republican Norris, suggested in debate Monday that Norris' latest bill enabling separate systems smacked of "apartheid."

But what Norris does transcends mere hyperbole. We have previously expressed our amazement that Norris, prime author of last year's Norris-Todd bill, which first established the right of the suburbs to escape merger, has claimed that Norris-Todd was designed to "facilitate" that merger. His response to Kyle on Monday ascended to new heights of Orwellianism. As he told it, the six suburban municipalities seeking to separate their schools from those of their Memphis neighbors were doing so "to embrace the concept of a unified system, not just a merged system." Oh. And, by opting out of the merger process, they had actually "offered to be a part of that process." Say what? And, most handsomely, they had volunteered, even while having to pony up for their own systems, to "be ... a part of the unified system by helping shoulder the responsibility and the financial burden of educating all children in the county." Translation: Suburban residents are going to have to pay the county education tax just like their Memphis city cousins. They don't really have a choice in the matter.

Norris concluded his dithyramb to his own virtue and that of the outer Shelby County suburbs by pronouncing himself "pleased that the federal court acknowledged that Public Chapter 1 [Norris-Todd] advances the public interest, and your vote in support of this conference committee report will do the same." Except that presiding U.S. district judge Hardy Mays has conspicuously not, as of yet, conferred his approval on that portion of Norris-Todd, which would suspend, for the sake of six Shelby County suburbs, the state ban on new municipal districts. The issue, Mays said last summer, was not yet "ripe."

We suspect that such ripening may occur as a result of Norris' latest legislative creation, which is meant to override — or, in Orwellese, "enhance" — an opinion by state attorney general Robert Cooper that the suburbs cannot act on new districts until the merger of Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools is accomplished in August 2013. Cooper's opinion was based on Norris-Todd itself, but that bill, Norris might say, was so — last year.

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