ANALYSIS: Transportation race gets big votes in seven counties

By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal

More than half of Tuesday’s 50,417 votes in the special election for Northern District Transportation commissioner came from seven of the district’s 33 counties.
And five of those seven were home to candidates who were trying to fill the vacancy created by the death of Commissioner Bill Minor on Nov. 1.
The election resulted in a Feb. 1 runoff between John Caldwell of Nesbit and Mike Tagert of Starkville, both of whom received about 21 percent of the vote. Caldwell is from DeSoto County, while Tagert is from Oktibbeha County.
Those two counties, along with Lee, Lowndes, Marshall, Panola and Tippah, accounted for 25,537 votes. The other candidates, in order of finish, were Warner McBride of Courtland (Panola); Dennis Grisham (Tippah); Joey Hood (Itawamba); Ray Minor (Marshall) and Larry Lee (Grenada).
Neither Caldwell nor Tagert has held elective office before. Caldwell, the transportation director for DeSoto County schools, ran for the Transportation post in 2007 as the GOP nominee; this is Tagert’s first political run.
And although candidates did not have to declare party affiliation for the special election, both are Republicans.
A look at the county-by-county totals shows that Caldwell scored big at home with 50-plus percent of his vote coming from DeSoto County. During the past decade, its voter rolls rose by more than 80,000 as nearby Memphis saw its residents move south and east to better schools and business opportunities.
Caldwell also handily carried neighboring Tate County. Together, DeSoto and Tate gave him 56.5 percent of his votes.
Tagert is president of the Tenn-Tom Waterway Council, with special influence in the district’s eastern counties near the waterway.
While Tagert finished about 300 votes behind Caldwell, his support came across a wider area. He led the race in 10 counties and garnered more votes than Caldwell in 20 of the district’s 33 counties.
Caldwell came in second in six counties, while Tagert was second in eight.
Looking strictly at the total vote, 14.8 percent came from Caldwell’s DeSoto and Tate counties, while nearly 59.8 percent came from counties where Tagert led him.
According to the candidates’ campaign reports:
n Caldwell raised $16,745 with $9,450 from 17 donations larger than $200. More than half were from residents or businesses in and around his home area.
n Tagert raised $43,880 with $41,900 from 46 donations larger than $200, including $20,200 from his wife. Among the other donors are well-known Republicans like state Sen. Gary Jackson of French Camp, former TVA executive and Tupelo Mayor Glenn L. McCullough Jr., Tupelo businessman Jerry Wilburn and W.D. “Billy” Mounger of Jackson, one of the state party’s pioneers.
Of the total 50,417 votes cast, more than 10,000 came from counties where hometown candidates were unsuccessful on Tuesday’s ballot.
Lee County, which didn’t have a resident candidate, tallied nearly 7,300 votes in the race – likely boosted by a special election for state Senate.
Turnout for special elections generally is low, but Tuesday’s turnout also was hindered by cold and icy roadways that covered north Mississippi.

Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or patsy.brumfield@journalinc.com.