Opinion: Let Memphis choose its own leadership

In recent years, Memphians have decisively chosen Democratic leadership in 2018 and 2022, most notably electing Steve Mulroy to become Shelby County’s district attorney general. Despite this clear preference, the Tennessee Republican Party is determined to reclaim power in Shelby County, hearkening back to a time when Republicans dominated local government. This determination was underscored at the Tennessee Republican’s Statesman Dinner in Nashville where Speaker Cameron Sexton boldly proclaimed, “One day we will turn Memphis red again, and I know that day is coming very soon.”

Instead of helping Memphis with our apparent crime problem, mitigating the proliferation of guns in our communities that claim the lives of innocent children every day and assisting our local school district with a projected $1 billion in deferred maintenance, Speaker Sexton would rather force political representation in Memphis that reflects the degrading moral compass of the Tennessee Republican Party. Instead, why is the Tennessee Republican Party not pushing a platform with sensible solutions to the pressing issues our city faces and letting the voters decide on who represents them at City Hall, the Shelby County Board of Commissioners and the state Legislature? I argue Sexton’s comment reflects a desire for one-party rule in all levels of government instead of allowing the electorate to make that determination at the ballot box. It is important to highlight Sexton’s comment is a part of the nationwide Republican disdain for voters’ choice in liberal cities by electing Democrats to city and countywide offices.

It is hard not to reflect that during the 2020 redistricting cycle, the state Legislature drew Tennessee’s 9th congressional district to include portions of rural Tipton County which overwhelmingly votes Republican. This move makes the 9th congressional district more competitive than years prior. With Speaker Sexton’s comment, I argue Republicans will try to further gerrymander the 9th Congressional District during the 2030 redistricting cycle so a moderate Republican could pose a serious challenge to the Democratic stronghold. We can look to Tennessee’s 5th Congressional District and see how the legislature cracked Nashville into 3 congressional districts to weaken the Democratic stronghold to see Sexton’s intentions were made clear with his recent comment.

I urge the Shelby County and Tennessee Democratic Party not to wait for the Republican plan to come to fruition but to act now. Chairman Remus and the Shelby County Democratic Party need to strategically coordinate efforts to mobilize voter turnout and educate voters on some of the extreme policies from the Republican caucus impacting our city. In addition, Democrats should foster consensus around solutions and craft a strategic plan to tackle issues like youth crime and reckless driving.

My message to the Tennessee Republican Party and Speaker Sexton is Memphians are no fools. We are smart and capable enough to elect our representation, and we do not need your help in making decisions for who we choose to represent us.

I cannot speak for Speaker Sexton, but it is obvious to me our state government does not care about the residents of Memphis unless we can add more money to the state budget or Republican politicians can use our city as a breeding ground to exploit our problems for Republican state officials seeking higher office. We shall wait to see which politicians respond to the rallying cry of Speaker Sexton. Unfortunately, only time will tell.

This article was originally published in the Daily Memphian. Kaleb Sy is a rising sophomore at Columbia University and an honor graduate of East High School. He is a member of the Columbia Black Pre-Law Society, and a writer for the Black Pre-Law Journal and the Columbia Policy Institute.

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