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Political parties have no business in local government

As a random contributor to The Jackson Post, I try to pay attention to some of the stories that take precedence each week. Most recently, I’ve noticed a couple of county government meetings that have prompted discussions and extensive coverage by this news outlet. These meetings involve not only standard, full-body county commission meetings, but meetings by local political caucuses, where it seems the meat of issues concerning Madison Countains are hashed out prior to discussions by the full slate of elected board members.

I know quite well how the Weakley County Commission handles agenda items prior to a meeting by the full body. We have commissioners and appointed community members who sit on committees, such as Public Safety; Health, Education and Economic Development; Finance, Ways and Means and Public Works, for example.

Thanks to Managing Editor Brandon Shields’ coverage of recent meetings, I’ve learned the commission is somewhat divided by political party, with Republican and Democratic caucuses that hold their own meetings to discuss taxpayer issues before the full body holds its meeting. I find the idea of political party affiliation for county and district-level offices to be too divisive, outdated and a blatant disservice to community members who are tasked with selecting leaders to fully represent them.

In Weakley County, it was historically difficult to obtain an elected county and district seat if you weren’t a Democrat. Over the years, as political parties became even more divided on state and national levels, many candidates opted to put an “R” behind their name. After Barack Obama and Donald Trump’s presidential elections, more local candidates opted to run as “Independents,” a decision I applaud on so many levels.

I continue to wonder how county mayors, sheriffs, district attorney generals and county commissioners can accurately and fairly represent ALL in their districts if they are pandering to local political parties.

In Madison County, with added meetings by Republican or Democratic caucuses, how are community members who don’t fall in line with a certain political party expected to feel comfortable attending these open-to-the-public caucus meetings? Discussions of Sunshine Law violations took up a considerable amount of time during a recent county commission meeting in Madison County, with both parties blaming the other for violating the state’s open meetings act. I wonder how much of these discussions are more politically-charged as opposed to being in the best interest of those they represent.

If we took away the “Ds” and “Rs” for county and district-level positions, I wonder if it would be more productive and conducive to handling real business. The back-and-forth as a result of political party affiliation bogs down actual agendas in county meetings across the state. I am advocating to our state’s General Assembly to remove the political party designation for county and district-level elected positions. We already have school boards made up of “Independent” candidates and I am pushing for that to become the norm for county mayors, sheriffs, road supervisors, trustees, property assessors and the rest who have to declare political party affiliation. This type of legislation may be difficult to get enough “yes” votes in Tennessee to become law, but it is worth a shot. Just the cost-savings alone for districts that have to hold “primary” elections for political parties with numerous candidates seeking county-level seats range in the thousands of dollars for counties.

If you agree that you deserve complete, equal representation on a local level without the stigma of Nancy Pelosi or Mitch McConnell politics, I encourage you to contact your state senators and representatives and share your opinions. Through our actions, maybe we can get topics such as school choice on the forefront of an agenda and decided by people who are looking out for their district and not just what a state or national political party tells them to decide.

Sabrina Bates is the Regional News Desk Editor for Magic Valley Publishing Co. Contact her at sabrina@magicvalleypublishing.com

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