EDITORIAL: Important role to fill

Northern District Transportation Commissioner Bill Minor was a serious politician whose passion for building better, safer highways in his district and statewide unfolded in the $1.6 billion 1987 Highway Program, which he helped pass as a member of the Mississippi Senate.
Minor was on the job Monday when he died unexpectedly of a heart attack while attending the national meeting of the Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials in Biloxi.
Minor left the Senate to run for the commission in 2003, when Zack Stewart retired, and he won by a wide margin. He won the primary and was unopposed in the general election for a second term in 2007.
Minor worked hard at his job, and he enjoyed politics. The employees he led in the Tupelo district office of the Mississippi Department of Transportation were saddened and stunned by the news of his death. Mark Holley, an assistant district engineer, said Minor was “a man who always kept his word, and he was an honorable man.”
We believe the late commissioner would fully understand why several potential candidates already are seriously assessing seeking the office when a special election is held, as required by law, sometime in January.
Gov. Barbour is required to call the election within 15 days of the office being vacated, and set the election not more than 60 days from the announcement. We agree with Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann’s recommendation that Barbour set the candidates’ qualifying deadline at least 45 days before the election so ballots can be prepared.
Mississippi’s transportation commission is the only elected statewide highway governing board in the nation, and it is a powerful center of influence in state government. It spends more than $1 billion every year on salaries, maintenance, construction, planning and engineering. It is politically well connected in court houses, City Halls, in the Legislature, the Governor’s Mansion, in the Congress, and in the federal network.
We have long advocated abolition of the elected commission to remove its important decisions further from politics, and some other Mississippians agree, but the idea hasn’t gained enough traction to move forward.
The special election will be non-partisan, which should become a lesson in how easily every election for commissioner could be held. Highways aren’t partisan; their construction and maintenance should be matters of necessity and economic development.
After the new commissioner is elected, voters will face electing a commissioner for a full, four-year term in next November’s general election. Get ready. One race will bump against another in the continuing cycle of Mississippi voting.

NEMS Daily Journal