Nearly all Republicans on the Shelby County political ballot were white, and with a few notable exceptions including yours truly, the Democratic slate was black. After the elections, our county government leadership is now almost perfectly divided by race along partisan lines. White Republicans won almost every county-wide race.* Seven black Democrats and six white Republicans comprise the County Commission. Especially after recent violent events and the often racist public reactions, I worry what this division means for our city.
I might argue having partisan county ballots is itself a bad idea (the city of Memphis abandoned it years ago). But having such division by race is most certainly a problem. Cities frequently have significant racial crossover in partisan races; there are prominent non-white Republicans and white Democrats (see for example our own Steve Cohen). But our county government persists along stark racial lines.
If this is the way we frame our politics, how can we unite and move toward prosperity? How can we avoid getting stuck with old-school solutions to new world problems? We need capable leadership with a county-wide mandate. Without racial partisan crossover we’ll continue being left behind by more progressive southeastern cities like Atlanta and Nashville.
The public and both parties must change. Strong candidates must step forward. Shelby County is full of qualified individuals, black and white, who identify with parties not traditionally associated with their race. These are the folks who can command support across party lines, leading to the kind of county-wide political mandate we need based on vision and competence instead of race and affiliation.
*Black Republican Paul Boyd is Probate Court Clerk and Democrat Cheyenne Johnson was re-elected as Shelby County Assessor.