Monday, August 1, 2011
The real historic opportunity in Metro elections: Government that reflects Nashville
This year's Metro Nashville elections offer the opportunity to make history, and the media have picked up on that theme a bit. But they usually focus on the possibility of a challenger candidate taking an at-large Council seat from one of the incumbents or something about the Fairgrounds.
While accurate enough, that's not very meaningful history.
The real historical opportunity this year is to elect a Metro Government that more closely reflects the city we live in.
Identity politics and single-issue organizations get a lot of eye rolls from the commenting classes (and some of those eye rolls are deserved). And then there's the common sense question: What does it matter what gender, what race, what ethnicity, what sexual orientation or gender identity marks someone; shouldn't we just vote for the best candidate?
Well, sure. I'm not suggesting that anyone vote for a bad candidate. But let's not pretend that it's irrelevant who has the ability to deliberate and vote on legislation that affects our city.
Let's take a few examples:
*Earlier this year the all-male Hamilton County Commission almost wiped out a contraceptive program that they didn't understand. Are men capable of understanding contraception? Yes, of course. But it's pretty clear that the gender composition of the body made a difference in their consideration of the issue.
*Metro Council deliberates aspects of the 287(g) program. And yet not one member of the Council is an immigrant. Does that matter? Does it affect the tone of the debate? Without a doubt!
*Metro Council has considered two non-discrimination bills without one gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender person on the floor participating in the debate or the vote. Horrible things have been said about our community during these public discussions and CAN DO barely passed. How might things have been different with some representation?
So, as Joey Garrison has pointed out in the City Paper, we have the opportunity to elect more women to Metro Council, but we also may elect an immigrant, more African-American Council Members At-Large, and viable, qualified gay candidates in competitive races in districts 8 and 18!
These markers don't completely define these candidates any more than being white or male or straight or being born in America defines the majority of current Council. But given the issues we face as a city, they are ONE piece of the puzzle. Diversity helps us deliberate better about how different parts of our community are affected by legislation.
Is Nashville really for all of us? This election will be a barometer.