Down With Democracy

Elections never turn out as we want, so letâ's dump them

Frank Talk

by Frank Cagle

Iâ’ve never understood why good-government types hate democracy, but I suspect itâ’s because voters often elect the wrong candidates. In recent years we have eliminated the election of state Supreme Court justices, even though this blatantly contradicts the state Constitution. We did away with an elected Public Service Commission to regulate utilities. We have abolished elected school superintendents. Now, the good-government types want metro government as long as any elected sheriff has been gelded. All to the applause of editorial pages everywhere.

Politics and elections are messy affairs, involving unseemly arguing, loud debate and the occasional round of spirited invective. It is much more genteel to get in a back room and pick public officials. Thank God it doesnâ’t violate the Sunshine Law.

We now have the Knox County One Question group coming forward with recommendations for â“improvingâ” public confidence in local government. We are reeling from the aftereffects of 12 local officials being appointed by County Commission. We are in the midst of a series of scandals involving the office of county Mayor Mike Ragsdale.

Had we had the system in place recommended by this group, the guy who appointed Mike Arms, John Werner and Cynthia Finch would also have appointed all the department heads in county government, from the Trustee to the County Clerk to the Register of Deeds to the Tax Assessorâ"and the Law Director, who will be deciding whether there is enough evidence to ask the District Attorney General to oust him.

This would be funny were it not so serious.

No, I take it back. Itâ’s still funny.

This group believes political parties are the problem. They propose Commission races become non-partisan. In what way have political parties been the problem here? There is a war between factions of the Republican Party, and Democrats are on both sides. Parties have nothing to do with current problems. If there is any example of non-partisanship in local government now it is the level of cronyism, nepotism and scandal.

I have, along with everyone else, criticized the current mess. I have advocated the next election as the solution. Let the people decide who goes and who stays.

I will grant you the 19-member Commission, with people elected from nine districts, produces a legislative body that is at times unwieldy and disorganized. I also recognize that some districts elect the occasional lunkhead. But the current system does have one thing that recommends it. It is virtually impossible for the county mayor or the political establishment to turn it into a rubber stamp.

William Buckley once observed he would rather be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book than by the 2,000 members of the Harvard faculty. Believe me, you are better off than if Commission were composed ofâ"let me thinkâ"the board of the Chamber Partnership?

It isnâ’t everyone who can take time out from a career or running a business to go down and spend six or eight hours attending County Commission meetings. Despite all the interesting things you could have participated in of late, most of what goes on is mind-numbingly boring. Then there is the problem of answering questions at all hours from those pesky voters.

Reducing the number of commissioners to 11 makes it easier to get voting control. Having some members elected countywide puts them at the mercy of big donors and the establishment that funds countywide races.

If the Knoxville establishment were allowed to do whatever it pleases, unchecked by average citizens, neighborhood groups and downtown partisans would we be better off? Weâ’d have a dome over Market Square, weâ’d have an empty planetarium, property taxes would be twice as high as they are now â" and downtown would still be deserted.

Frank Cagle is a political analyst and the editor of Knoxville magazine. You can reach him at .


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