Tycia's TroubleThis morning comes the news in the Jefferson County Standard Banner that the Jefferson County Election Commission voted on Tuesday to replace Administrator of Elections Tycia Kesterson along a 3-2 party line vote:
Operating under a new Republican majority, county election commissioners fired Administrator Tycia Kesterson Tuesday afternoon and quickly chose a successor. Democrat Commissioner Betty Watkins decried the move as a purely political one that represents a “step backward for the county,” but Republican Chair Phyllis Finchum countered that “many county residents are interested in a change.”
It must be realized that for all of the complaints of the Democratic Commissioners about partisanship, they certainly appear to have been partisan in that to an outsider it might appear that they were simply angry about the possibility of replacing Kesterson, a Democrat. Tycia Kesterson had at least 25 supporters at the Jefferson County Election Commission meeting Tuesday night, however, and most of them were Republicans. There is a good reason for that-Kesterson was doing a fine job as Jefferson County Administrator of Elections.
With the change in majority of the Tennessee General Assembly, the law allows the Republicans to appoint GOP majorities on every county election commission in Tennessee. The Democrats changed the law in the 70's from a system where the Governor had control over election commission appointments to one where the Legislature had control, and this was done solely to keep Republican Governor Winfield Dunn from remaking county election commissions, bodies which had been stacked with patronage-seeking Democrats. When the Democratic-controlled General Assembly took control of the appointment process for election commissions, they never believed the Republicans, who legislatively were still largely an East Tennessee rump party in those days, would ever control the General Assembly or have a joint majority.
Now the day has finally arrived, and with a new Republican Secretary of State (a legislative appointee under Tennessee's Constitution) the GOP is reforming the 95 Election Commissions with great urgency, as well they should considering that Democrats have controlled these bodies, and the ability to manipulate elections, for so many years.
The Administrator of Elections is appointed by the Election Commission, so the reasoning goes that we should replace Democratic Administrators with Republicans. In many jurisdictions, such as Shelby County (Memphis), Davidson County (Nashville), Hamilton County (Chattanooga), Knox County (Knoxville), and many other counties, this does need to occur. In many of those places, the office is either a tool of the Democratic machine (Memphis, Nashville), or is used to make things harder for more conservative candidates in areas where the Republicans have shown political dominance at the polls.
In some counties, however, it simply can't be argued that the office is a Democratic tool-Jefferson County is one such county. There simply aren't enough Democrats here to manipulate the system to favor a party which barely exists on an organizational level in the community. There are not enough bona fide liberals in the county to manipulate the system to keep the conservative wing of the GOP at bay in our county, either. This was personal on the part of the new commissioners, some of whom just did not like Ms. Kesterson (one excuse was that some office employees had a beer on their lunchbreak one day while attending a lunch hour party for a county colleague. A beer on their lunch hour! Alert the presses! Beer drinkers in the election office-oh, the humanity!)
As a candidate last year, I dealt frequently with Tycia Kesterson's office. She and her staff (especially Ms. Sharon Breeder) were kind, courteous, always friendly, and they literally bent over backwards to assist me in making sure that my campaign was on the up-and-up and that we operated within the confines of election law for the office that I was seeking. In no way did she act in a way that was unprofessional, or could be seen to benefit candidates who thought or believed one way or another. Kesterson could have operated just as well with Republican bosses as with Democratic bosses, and there was no good reason not to retain her. Some of her suporters can say what rock-ribbed Republicans they are-everyone knows that I am, so my saying that Kesterson should not have been dismissed might register with the Election Commission-some members probably aren't nearly as conservative as I am.
I am certain that our new Jefferson County Election Administrator-a banker by background, I believe-will do a very fine job. He certainly has some big shoes to fill.