November 15, 2006
Election Roundup 2006
Tennessee’s vote sends mixed messages
The message heard around the nation by sometime Thursday afternoon (when U.S. Sen. George Allen conceded to rival Jim Webb) was a loud cry from independents, swing voters, bipartisans—whatever you want to call us—attesting that the fellow citizens we wish to represent us in Washington are those who avoid the steep slopes on either the left or the right, and instead walk the high middle ground. In Tennessee, a slightly higher number of us felt that Bob Corker embodied that spirit of competence and cooperation more than Harold Ford Jr. did; and in many cases, this sense was due to the fact that Ford ran so far—and so transparently—to the right. Aside from their stated differences on how to fund stem cell research and how to plan an exit from Iraq, it was Ford, more than Corker, who sounded like the James Dobson-approved candidate in the general election. Even so, it is interesting that Tennessee bucked the trend and sent a Republican to the Senate after a very close race. I think that speaks volumes about something, but I’m still trying to figure out what. Ford ran an impressive campaign, even if he stumbled once by accosting Corker at that press conference in Memphis. (As dumb a move as that was, it hardly qualified as a “meltdown,” but media producers have to sell ads, you know.)
Is Tennessee redder than we thought? No; look at the Bredesen/Bryson results, the Democrats’ hold on the state House, the one-seat GOP loss in the state Senate. Or, as some have suggested, was Corker’s win due to Corker’s rather mighty wallet? Maybe. Tennesseans are quick to elect multimillionaires, as much as we may grumble about it afterward. Bredesen, Alexander, Frist, Corker, Tanner—the list goes on. We’re also known for not quite being with the program, going back to anti-secessionists in East Tennessee, lasting through Democrat Bredesen’s election in 2002, and now to Corker’s election when the pendulum very obviously swung the other way throughout the country.
The mood for practical, problem-solving replacements in the U.S. House clearly gained in intensity as the November election neared, else the voters in Far East Tennessee may have chosen differently in the August GOP primary. It was a given that a Republican would win in the 1st District, but to be in the spirit of last week’s election would have meant selecting one of several candidates who ran against the eventual winner, outgoing state Rep. David Davis. Johnson City vice-mayor Phil Roe comes to mind, as do former Mayor Vance Cheek and former Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable. Congressman-elect Davis’ freshman term will be spent much like his tenure in the state House: as part of a minority within a minority. It should be noted that the Democratic nominee, Rick Trent, while he lost, fit the centrist mold of many victorious Democrats elsewhere.
In the opposite corner (in more ways than one), there’s outgoing District 30 Sen. Steve Cohen, whose decidedly liberal bent sets him apart from the typical Democrat who’s headed for Washington in January. There won’t be a Ford in the District 9 seat for the first time in a generation—no thanks to little brother Jake, whose attempt to leapfrog the primary process and win as an “independent Democrat” caused heads to shake and tongues to wag among Memphis progressives. For all of Cohen’s left-leaning votes and views, however, his reputation of authenticity and desire to actually accomplish things will serve him well in Congress.
So that’s the federal outcome; now, about the Marriage Solemnification Amendment, aka the collective giant leap into a big cow patty. This was not a narrow victory, nor was it a step toward moderation. And even though there were people who realized after voting that they really meant the opposite, the overwhelming margin in the outcome belies any notion of artificial skew based on people’s inability to comprehend the text. The result was very clear: a strong majority of Tennessee voters felt that the state Constitution contained a hole that needed patching, and they sealed the perceived fault with a four-to-one indication that marriage is defined as being between one man and one woman.
I am not an expert on the biological aspect, but all along the point has been raised that there are more genetic gender combinations in our species than simply ‘XX’ and ‘XY’—there are ‘XXY’s and others. Where do people with these characteristics fit into the “one man, one woman” pattern? Are they simply not allowed to get married? If one goes to New York and takes advantage of the ability there to legally choose one’s gender identification, can one return to Tennessee and marry the “opposite” gender? (I already know the answer, but it’s a worthy question.) Those of us in hetero marriages sure can sleep better at night, knowing that there’s no way for “the gays” to attain equal legal standing. Never mind the financial woes, personality clashes, lust, jealousy, or all the other little things that can and do break us apart; our unions are now safe. Smug are we in the knowledge that an equally loving couple cannot be an equally treated one. Insurance, hospital visits and end-of-life decisions, to name a few, all get the crushing boot of “sanctity.”
Aside from the obvious (to one in five voters) civil rights issue, there is the matter of writing law (some have called it a “superlaw”) into the state Constitution. Please stop doing that. Constitutions are the framework against which laws are measured. Embed specific laws into them, and you destroy the clarity of that process. Plus, constitutions are supposed to protect the rights of minorities from mob majority rule—else they would be much simpler documents. Many aren’t personally comfortable with the idea of gay people marrying in the religious sense, and that’s fine. What most of these people fail to recognize is the bottom line: that this amendment we passed amounts to economic discrimination by the government, and that the principles of laissez-faire capitalism do not allow such. We voted against our own philosophy.
Finally, I found it interesting, via exit poll analysis, that the ratio of Yes to No votes on Question 1 correlates negatively to voter education levels—i.e., while those with a high school diploma voted 83-17 in favor of the amendment, among post-graduate degree holders the figure was a slightly less exasperating 67-33. Take from that what you will. The really dumb part of this is how relatively soon it will all turn around. One could have probably found 80 percent approval of Jim Crow laws during their existence; but these are now regarded as embarrassing (at minimum; much worse, to most of us) elements of our past. The repeal of this discriminatory amendment will take less time, and thus leave more of us with egg on the face. I usually try not to, but in this case I will be standing there waving the “I told you so” sign.
[This column appears in the November 15, 2006 Pulse.]
Pulsations | By joe lance | 9:45 AM