The General Assembly is moving steadily on a bill that would make judicial and countywide elections nonpartisan in Shelby and Davidson counties. Last week, the bill reached the Senate State and Local Government Committee last week and the House Elections and Campaign Finance Subcommittee.
The bill would only apply to counties with a population of 500,000 or more. According to the latest census estimations, only Shelby and Davidson counties would be affected. State Senator Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) and State Representative Tom Leatherwood (R-Arlington) introduced companion bills on the same day last month.
The legislation already has opposition in both targeted counties.
Chair Eddie Jones questioned why the bill would be created after courts struck down the General Assembly’s passage of the school voucher bill last year for applying to Shelby and Davidson counties only.
“The problem that I have with it is that [there are] 95 counties in the state. If you want to do this and be fair and equal across the board, [then the] law should apply equally across the board. And because it is only targeting Shelby County and Davidson County? That is simply just wrong. And, if you were to do it with all 95 counties, I bet you it would be DOA up there on the right. It’d be dead before it even got to the floor, because the other counties would not want that. And to single out two pretty much blue counties is just not fair,” stated Jones. “I get the partisan politics, but when you single out Shelby and Davidson alone and 93 other counties get a pass. That is just wrong.”
However, Vice Chair Brandon Morrison dissented. She argued that the bill would improve local government processes.
“Respectfully, I cannot support this resolution. [I] just believe local government is best served in a nonpartisan way, because I don’t think there’s a Republican or a Democratic way to provide good service or to pick up trash or those sort of things,” stated Morrison. “And it’s not perspective that often partisan politics [interrupt] what I think can be the best actions by this body.”
Over the past decade, similar versions of the current bill have appeared before the General Assembly. In 2019, Leatherwood (R-Arlington) introduced one such bill. However, it failed in subcommittee after lawmakers learned it hadn’t garnered support from either Shelby or Davidson counties’ local governments. That year, another bill from State Senator Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville) that sought to impose nonpartisan elections statewide failed as well.
The Tennessee Star asked Gardenhire for his reply to criticisms of the bill. The senator didn’t respond to the inquiries from The Star by press time.
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