Tennessee editorial roundup
Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:
The Daily Times of Maryville on bid to mandate closed primaries in Tennessee:
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.
The Johnson City Press on the permitting of landfills:
You may have read about the so-called “poop train” earlier this year. It involved dozens of rail cars filled with 10 million tons of raw human sewage which stalled in the middle of Parrish, Alabama, last April.
For two months, the small coal town northwest of Birmingham suffered the horrific odors and leaking pollution because a neighboring jurisdiction took a stand against the material passing through its community. It brought to light a relatively unknown pipeline of big-city waste from northern states being delivered to landfills in the rural South.
It was because of this Not-In-My-Backyard issue that Tennessee, in 1989, adopted a state law that allowed counties to have final say over the permitting of landfills within their boundaries, regardless of zoning. Local counties which sign onto the law have the power to reject a landfill within their jurisdiction by blocking the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation from processing the permit. It gives counties which adopt the law control over private entities obtaining state approval of a landfill without the county’s knowledge.
About half of Tennessee counties have adopted the law, and Hawkins County is considering it. Among residents attending a meeting on the issue was Teresa Greer of Surgoinsville, who told county commissioners that she supports local adoption. “We all agree we need a place to put our household garbage. This affects ... anybody who might want to come in and make a landfill in the future. It just makes good sense that the County Commission has control over our community and what’s dumped here.”
It does indeed, and Hawkins should approve the resolution. But it should have some company in doing so.
According to the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club, as of last year only Unicoi and Greene counties and the city of Greeneville were on the list of governments in Tennessee’s upper eight counties that were on board with Jackson’s law. Washington, Carter, Johnson, Sullivan and Hancock counties had not adopted the law.
Residents who live near Johnson City’s Iris Glen Environmental Center know all too well the impact a landfill can have on a community or neighborhood. Despite significant control measures, the seeping gases often leave the area smelling — well, like a poop train.
Landfills have to go somewhere, but the people affected should have a voice.
Johnson City Press on blighted residential and commercial properties:
You don’t have to look far in Johnson City to find blighted property ... Several residential districts in Johnson City also have dilapidated and/or abandoned houses. Despite significant progress in urban renewal, the city has a long way to go in rehabbing such dwellings.
So Johnson City residents should be glad to know that Northeast Tennessee municipal leaders are asking the state Legislature to give them more power. As Press Staff Writer Zach Vance reported in Sunday’s edition, the 2019 Joint Legislative Policy of the Tri-Cities statement supports the creation of new and enhanced mechanisms for local governments to deal with blighted residential and commercial properties.
The policy statement, though, offered no specific suggestion for a fix.
We urge the region’s legislative representatives to sit down with our local governments to develop those specifics and pass legislation in 2019. It’s time Northeast Tennessee governments — and all cities in the state — had more control over economic stability, appearance and safety.