There is the politics of getting elected to office and there is the politics of holding office. They do go together but there are some distinctions to be made.
Take the annual pre-Fourth of July political picnic that Shelby County Commission chairman Sidney Chism and other local Democratic leaders hold every year on Horn Lake Road.
There won’t be one this year per Gale Jones Carson, who is among the organizers with Chism.
Chism has had a busy year. He ran in the March Democratic primary for General Sessions Court Clerk. As commission chairman, he has overseen the commission’s protracted debate over redistricting that stretched into the first half of this year before Chancellor Arnold Goldin made the decision for the commission last week. Chism also moderated and attempted to mediate the commission’s personality conflicts that have surfaced during redistricting and other matters.
Meanwhile, we are about three weeks from early voting in advance of the Aug. 2 elections. This is an election cycle that normally is pretty simple. But when is the last time our politics was normal?
Instead of just the regular state and federal primaries and two county general elections for Assessor and General Sessions Court Clerk, we’ve got special elections for one seat on the Shelby County Commission and District Attorney General, six referendums in each of the suburban towns and cities on forming municipal school districts and seven school board races.
While political leaders are busier than ever, the basic retail political goal is to get voters to the polls. And the pursuit of that goal is changing as well.
This week at the Memphis Rotary Club, Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell talked about the low voter turnout that has come to be the norm for local elections. Luttrell believes the low turnout isn’t just apathy. He believes it is discouragement and disillusionment about the nature of our politics – part of which is the “urban-suburban divide.”
He talked about that and we look, in a piece in Thursday’s edition, at Luttrell’s leadership style as he approaches the two-year mark as county mayor.
All of this activity and energy for a turnout often well under half of the voters in Shelby County. It is no wonder it can be hard to find a political picnic on par with the old St. Peter’s picnic in Midtown.
The picnic for the orphanage and later children’s home at Poplar and McLean was the place to be for decades for political hacks, political legends and those who follow them around for a living.
The picnic itself was also a carnival with games and prizes not to be missed if you were a child of Memphis.
My family always went late in the day for several reasons. It wasn’t as hot. There were four of us children. And by sundown there was less chance the politicians would be trying to hand my parents stuff or trying to get their vote.
By now, you are probably considering the irony of that. I know I do frequently.
No one told my Mom how to vote and my Mom usually told my Dad how to vote. But sometimes he would take me with him and let me vote in the races lower on the ballot.
It is something I now consider a practice ahead of its time in countering the dreaded political phenomenon of ballot fall-off. Of course, ballot fall-off comes with different technical concerns now that the ballot layout is a set of “pages” on an electronic ballot.
I have to admit, there was a certain attraction even at that age to what you might call the political debris left by people I rarely saw but whose pictures were sometimes on the push cards others discarded in the hand to hand campaigning. The signs would still be up around the gates and the push cards and other literature would be several layers thick near the gates like a political mosaic by the time I got there.
Two of my fondest memories of the St. Peter’s picnic are those mosaics and the heat lightning.