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tennessee plan

Tennessee: Please don’t take these two backward steps

I expected the state budget to be the main topic Monday morning at the League of Women Voters’ monthly Breakfast with the Legislators, and I was right (as Bob Fowler reported in the News Sentinel). I didn’t predict the discussion that occurred over reauthorization of the Tennessee Plan (the procedure that Tennessee uses to select judges for the state’s highest courts) and proposals to return to the days when most school superintendents were elected, not appointed. When asked about these topics, neither State Senators Randy McNally or Ken Yager gave clear and forthright statements of support for the status quo. Both hemmed and hawed a lot, and Yager’s comments suggested that may be leaning toward returning to direct election of appellate court judges (but only in non-partisan elections — he said he opposed having appellate judges elected in partisan elections) and that he might want to let counties go back to electing school superintendents.

I found myself with the sinking feeling that the Republican majority in the State Senate is committed to restoring direct elections for these positions, and that our two local Senators were reluctant to say anything contrary to their party’s position.

Direct election of senior judges and school superintendents is a bad idea. We need to maintain an independent judiciary that makes decisions based on the law, not on popular opinion or the wishes of big campaign contributors. Also, we need for our public schools to be run by professional educators who are motivated by the needs of children, not the need to be re-elected.  I hope the General Assembly members recognize that changing back to direct election of these offices would be a major step backward — no, make that two steps backward — for Tennessee.

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