After the Tennessee General Assembly voted last Tuesday to strip Memphis of $250,000 worth of funding for an upcoming bicentennial celebration over its decision to remove Confederate Civil War monuments located in the city, state Representative Antonio Parkinson (D-Memphis) called for the city to secede from the State of Tennessee.
“We are in what I consider an abusive relationship with the State of Tennessee. Maybe it’s time for a conversation about secession. Create a new state, maybe West Tennessee,” Rep. Parkinson told WREG-TV.
He added, “Maybe if the conversation [about secession] is being had, maybe it’ll wake those individuals up who have been taking Davidson and Shelby County for granted.”
“It’s very interesting but yes, it can be done,” said Memphis City Council Chairman Berlin Boyd according to WBIR-TV. “If we became our own state we could control our overall destiny, we could create a state income tax… You have to think about, would we want to be the size of Rhode Island? Or would it be more impactful of a larger portion of West Tennessee?”
While critics have said that separating from the state would completely disconnect the city from funds it receives from state tax coffers, such as the $517 million in funding it received this year for Shelby County schools, Chairman Boyd suggested that a newly-created state could raise its own revenues by legalizing marijuana or allowing casinos.
Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell said that he opposes secession from the state but called the General Assembly’s effort to punish Memphis for removing the Civil War monuments “a little bit of a stick in the eye.”
“We are different in many ways from the rest of the state, and I say that in a very positive way, and I think that we’ve just got to resolve to continue going forward and push the message that we are a very progressive, very growing, very vibrant community that needs the state’s help,” Mayor Luttrell added.
City Council Member Worth Morgan said he opposes the measure and told WMC Action News 5, “I think seceding from the State of Tennessee is an impossible and stupid idea and any time spent researching it is probably a waste.”
While it is legally possible that Memphis could secede from Tennessee, to do so would first require that a majority of Memphis voters approve the concept in a referendum, then the Tennessee General Assembly and U.S. Congress would have to pass legislation allowing it.
Rhodes College Political Science professor Stephen Wirls said that it is unlikely that the state would approve secession. “If they allowed Memphis to go they’re basically inviting every other part of Tennessee that has beef with the state,” he said.