Democrats Unchained: Perhaps It's Time for Tennessee's Left to Find a New Political Identity

The State of Tennessee has a golden opportunity to reduce spending in future elections: Stop funding Democratic primaries.

Democrats could still get on general-election ballots, but the same way other small parties with ineffective leadership get their candidates on the ballot. Green, Libertarian, and Constitution Party candidates will be on the November ballot in much of the state, and not a government cent was spent funding primaries for those parties.

In this month's Democratic primary, a plurality of voters chose for the U. S. Senate an unknown who filed no campaign disclosures and merely rolled over his 2008 anti-Lamar campaign into an anti-Corker campaign. He did not even update his website. Voters chose him because "Mark Clayton" came first alphabetically. Voters who knew what they were doing were overpowered by fools.

Why should the state pay for an election in which so many voters choose at random?

You might think it would be mean and partisan to stop paying for the Democrats' primary, but it would be merciful. Besides, the precedent for being mean and partisan has been set. Since Republicans took control of Tennessee, we have seen Memphis voting-machine records rescued from trash bags, improper purges throughout the state, a candidate disqualified and ejected from Knox County, a thousand Shelby County voters denied a vote in their own district, and the most solid Democratic polling place in Knoxville closed.

With Regents University graduate Mark Goins in charge of elections, not just Democrats are getting partisan slights. Earlier this year a judge declared third-party ballot-access laws arbitrary and void. Candidates from small parties would no longer be listed as "Independent," but could have a party affiliation printed with their name. Rather than comply, the Haslam administration opted to appeal the ruling and withhold publishing party affiliations while waiting on the appeal.

Fortunately, the appellate court upheld the ruling last week, and for the first time in decades Tennessee voters will see the names of parties other than Democrat and Republican in the voting booth.

Though the state lost that battle, Gov. Haslam and Tre Hargett have succeeded in turning the Secretary of State's office into de facto Republican headquarters. That is why Nashville should simply refuse to pay for Democratic primaries. Leave small tasks to the counties.

Where Democrats have power, counties can fund Democratic primaries. Everywhere else, counties can simply process the paperwork and put the nominee on the general-election ballot. Not only would this save money, it would also place the party-spoils system in stark relief, begging to be reformed.

Instead of a dysfunctional Democratic Party, Tennessee needs a party with clear ideals and a strong sense of justice. In the void Democrats would leave behind, reforming partisan laws would be a natural rallying point and honest elections an early goal.

Citizens are sick of money-saturated politics, where no one decent ever seems to run for office. Forcing candidates to raise big sums to be deemed credible gives us a steady supply of creeps but very few statesmen.

The battle American citizens are fighting will not be won until the landscape of political parties reflects the landscape of America. Politics ought to be as regional as barbecue, or more so. Tennessee's left needs to define itself and not be defined, and it should start by discarding the name "Democrat." It is time to cook up new political identities county by county, region by region. We need to unite around goals, not a brand.

Vote "Citizens" party. Restore honesty and integrity to elections, amend the Constitution so money is not speech and corporations not individuals, reclaim the power wealthy elites have hijacked!

There are candidates who share those goals: Pleasant for U.S. Senate; Headrick, Goodale, or Smith for U.S. House; and more at the state level who are citizen allies. They could all help define a new coalition in a post-Democrat Tennessee.