Over the last several years, I’ve taken a keen interest in the local politics of Jackson and Madison County. It took me a while to pay attention, though.
In my early 20’s, I experienced a metamorphosis of sorts. I graduated from the cocoon of Union University, started listening to a lot of Bruce Springsteen, discovered Jon Stewart, and by 2004 I was fully entrenched in the national political scene. If you’ve read any of my writing over the last several years, it’s no secret that I lean left.
In 2005, I joined Mike McWherter on a trip to Memphis to see Harold Ford, Jr. announce his senate campaign. Ford was an up and coming moderate Democrat running against Bob Corker, but the Senator from Illinois who introduced him that day ended up making a slightly bigger splash than Ford.
I didn’t know much about Barack Obama when I shook his hand that morning in Memphis after he had introduced Mr. Ford, but I knew I liked him. I bought his book, “Dreams of my Father”, that afternoon and read it in two days. For the next 12 years, I cared infinitely more about the national political narrative than I did anything local. I was a shill for Obama and the DNC…then 2016 hit like a sledgehammer. I didn’t care much for Hillary and absolutely despised Trump. I also quickly began to realize that national politics is more or less like rooting for your favorite sports team – you feel like you’re on the team, but you’re really not. It’s more about winning and losing and how that feels as someone who wants so badly to personally connect with the party figurehead on television. However, that reality is anything but. Barack Obama never knew who I was, and Donald Trump never thought one second about anyone in Jackson, Tennessee. Even though presidential elections always get the highest voter turnout, the elections that matter the most are the ones that involve local candidates.
Out of all the elections in Jackson and Madison County, my favorite one has to be the City of Jackson Mayoral Election.
First of all, the mayoral election for the city is non-partisan. Let me pause to say (one more time) that – despite what our illustrious state representative wants – partisan politics have no place in local elections. The decisions made on the local level rarely involve any sort of party agenda. These decisions should always be made with the best interest of the community as a whole in mind…not a party platform or the result of a discussion in a caucus meeting. A local candidate of any office in Jackson or Madison County should be able to answer direct questions as to how they would improve the lives of tax paying citizens of the community in tangible ways that don’t lean on national political narratives or hyperbolic fear mongering.
Another reason that I love this particular race so much is that the mayor of Jackson holds A LOT of power when it comes to governing the city. This stands in sharp contrast to the position of Madison County Mayor which involves more steering and negotiating than governing authority. All local elections definitely matter, but this particular one seems to have the stakes raised quite a bit.
In 2018, I served on the city’s Charter Review Committee. I’ll spare you the boring details of this task, but what I took away most from those meetings was how much unilateral power the position of City Mayor has in Jackson. I think we’ve all seen the damage that can do if the wrong person is in that position (see: Jerry Gist/West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx).
On March 23, Newstalk West Tennessee will hold a debate with all six city mayoral candidates. The field is diverse. Three African-American candidates and three caucasian candidates are running. Unfortunately, only one female is in the field, but the overall diversity of candidates is encouraging. Each candidate has their own reasons for running, but what will matter in the end is how effectively they can communicate their tangible ideas for making Jackson a city that benefits every citizen whether that citizen lives on Harts Bridge Road, Hays Avenue, Lambuth Boulevard, or Oil Well Road.
National narratives or empty hyperbole won’t make Jackson a better place to live. On March 23 at Northside High School, each candidate will have a chance to directly answer questions about the city’s infrastructure, potential growth, crime, and culture. Please come out and educate yourself about the candidates running for mayor. Don’t rely on social media, empty phrasing, or pretty pictures to make up your mind; hear straight from the candidates.
Last Spring, I attended a forum for Madison County Mayor, and it was clear who the best candidate was after listening to each of them speak over the course of the hour and half. I shucked my partisan leanings, voted in the Republican primary, made some sensitive people mad, and knew I had made the best decision for my county.
Come to Northside next week, find out more about each candidate, and then decide which one deserves your vote.