By Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press
JACKSON — Several candidates for transportation commissioner say they want to improve four-lane highways to boost north Mississippi’s prospects for economic development.
Most have worked in transportation. One is the brother of Bill Minor, the Northern District commissioner who died Nov. 1.
Special elections will be held Jan. 11, with runoffs Feb. 1, to fill the Transportation Commission position for the northern one-third of the state and two legislative seats that came open last month when Republicans Alan Nunnelee of Tupelo and Steven Palazzo of Biloxi, were elected to Congress. The winners will fill the final year of four-year terms.
Candidates’ qualifying deadline was Friday.
Six people signed up to run for Nunnelee’s former state Senate seat in parts of Lee and Pontotoc counties. Eight qualified to run for Palazzo’s former state House seat in part of Harrison county.
The three-member commission oversees budgets and projects for highways, railroads, airports and other transportation services across the state. Seven entered the transportation commissioner race:
— Ray Minor, 66, of Holly Springs, said Friday that he worked with his late brother in their family’s three hardware stores and as a contractor for plumbing, electrical and heating services. Minor said he doesn’t have a background in transportation or road building, but he knows highways are important for development. He said if he’s elected, he wants to help rural residents by putting more state money into local roads.
“People that live on these rural county roads that are still gravel, they pay taxes just like we do,” Minor said.
— State Rep. Warner McBride, 54, of Courtland, is chairman of the House Transportation Committee and worked most of his adult life in his family’s civil engineering firm, which closed in recent years.
“I’ve been out there where roads are actually being built,” McBride said.
He said that as a lawmaker, he helped fund roads to a Toyota plant that’s scheduled to open next year in north Mississippi. McBride said he understands the complexities of handling multimillion dollar budgets.
— Mike Tagert, 40, of Starkville, is president of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Development Council. He said highways are important, but ports along the rivers and the Gulf Coast should also be developed.
“We work on economic development projects that require special transportation needs and multi-modal solutions,” Tagert said.
— John Caldwell, 49, of Nesbit, is transportation director for the DeSoto County School District. He was a DeSoto County supervisor from 1996 to 2000 and was defeated by Bill Minor in the 2003 Northern District transportation commissioner’s race. Caldwell was on active-duty military service during several months of the 2003 campaign.
“We’re wanting to restore some of the right kind of leadership to the Department of Transportation,” Caldwell said. “We’ve got some good people in the Department of Transportation. We need to get kind of re-energized and return to working for the people.”
— Joey Hood, 35, of Marietta, has worked for the Department of Transportation for 17 years, most recently as Minor’s top assistant. “I have done everything as his assistant except vote in meetings,” Hood said.
Hood said he knows state budgets are tight, and he wants to stretch dollars for highway construction and maintenance.
“I just want to continue the legacy of Commissioner Bill Minor, making north Mississippi a safer, better place to live,” he said.
— Dennis Grisham, 66, of Dumas, is in his seventh term as Tippah County supervisor and is past owner of Grisham Asphalt and Paving Co., with plants in New Albany and Ripley.
“I’ve got 28 years’ experience in county government, and I feel like I could move the Mississippi highway program, the Vision 21 program, forward,” Grisham said. “I was also in the asphalt business for 30 years and I’ve met payroll.”
— Larry Lee, of Grenada, a businessman who’s in the transportation race, could not be reached for comment after several attempts Friday.
A glance at candidates in Miss. special elections
Here’s a glance at the candidates who filed to run in three Mississippi special elections that will be held Jan. 11. Runoffs, if needed, are Feb. 1:
Northern District transportation commissioner:
John M. Caldwell Sr. of Nesbit, transportation director for the DeSoto County School District.
Dennis C. Grisham of Dumas, seven-term Tippah County supervisor and past owner of Grisham Asphalt and Paving Co., with plants in New Albany and Ripley.
Joey Hood of Marietta, state Department of Transportation employee since 1994, including work as special projects officer for the Northern District.
Larry Lee of Grenada, businessman.
Warner McBride of Courtland, state representative, worked in his family’s civil-engineering firm, which is now closed.
Ray Minor of Holly Springs, electrical and plumbing contractor, co-owner of hardware stores.
Mike Tagert of Starkville, president of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Development Council.
Senate District 6 — Parts of Lee and Pontotoc counties:
Melony Armstrong of Tupelo.
Mike Bryan of Tupelo.
Nancy Adams Collins of Tupelo.
Jonny Davis of Tupelo.
Stacy D. Scott of Sherman.
Doug Wright of Saltillo.
House District 116 — Part of Harrison County.
Jim Atchison of Biloxi.
Travis Burke of D’Iberville.
Jamie Creel of Biloxi.
Todd Echelberry of D’Iberville.
Casey Eure of Biloxi.
Jessamyn Hogue of Biloxi.
Quentin Lyles of D’Iberville.
Chuck Stein of Biloxi.