There is a move afoot to grant political institutions powers unmentioned in the U.S. Constitution and to strip Tennesseans of the right to exercise their right to vote for whomever they freely choose.
The Associated Press put it succinctly when reporting that Tennessee Republican Party officials are suggesting the state start asking voters to register by party affiliation and to limit primary elections to party voters.
When have Tennesseans ever been required to sign up as a party member in order to vote in a primary? And why go there now?
The simple answer is that with a supermajority in both the state House and the Senate, the time is ripe for GOP super partisans to attempt to push through a measure that has been found wanting in the past and should be again. Yet, the state GOP Executive Committee has voted to push for the change in the General Assembly.
Our state is one of six with partially open primaries, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Tennessee voters currently don’t register with political parties. They pick the primary ballot of their choice.
Changing the rules in Tennessee now, despite the supermajorities, is no slam dunk. In fact, neither the current nor the incoming governor, both Republicans, think much of the idea.
Gov. Bill Haslam: “We’re better off if folks would come into every election and say, ‘Who is the person that is going to do the best at solving the problems that we have? ... I’m not certain registering by party does anything to advance that cause.’”
Gov.-elect Bill Lee also fails to see the necessity, even from his own party’s perspective.
“The Republican Party has been very successful in recent years with establishing majorities, the governor’s spot, the congressional delegation, and I think they’ve been very successful under the current system,” Lee said. “I would suggest we stay with that system.”
If neither the governor’s nor the governor-to-be’s advice is persuasive to modern ears, why not take a historical perspective, go back a few years, like to the beginning of the republic?
Consider these words: “However (political parties) may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”
That was the opinion President George Washington — a severely worded caution delivered in his farewell address on Sept. 17, 1796.
The truth of that warning stands today. Tennessee legislators should take Washington’s words to heart, and Haslam’s and Lee’s to the legislative ballot — if it comes to that, which it shouldn’t.