By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Mike Tagert won Tuesday’s special election for Northern District transportation commissioner.
Complete, but unofficial, returns show Tagert, of Starkville and president of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Development Council, with about 53 percent of the vote against John Caldwell Sr., of Nesbit and transportation director for the DeSoto County School District.
Any remaining absentee and affidavit ballots will be counted today.
Tagert will fill the seat left vacant on the Mississippi Transportation Commission by the October death of Bill Minor of Holly Springs. Tagert will serve nearly the final year of a four-year term.
The November statewide election will fill the post for the next four years.
Tuesday’s 33-county election turnout was 39,848, compared with more than 51,000 three weeks ago.
The first turnout was bolstered by another special election in Lee and Pontotoc counties for a state Senate seat.
Tagert carried 23 of the 33 counties, with his heaviest turnout in Oktibbeha County with 94 percent of the vote.
Despite coming up short Tuesday, Caldwell said he was proud to be part of the race.
“I congratulate all seven candidates that came out for this race,” he said. “Everyone put their best foot forward. There wasn’t any bad-mouthing, there wasn’t any finger-pointing. All seven, including the winner, put their best foot forward and that’s the way politics needs to be.”
Caldwell, 49, is a former two-term county supervisor and a Marine reservist just back from work in Africa. He said he doesn’t plan to run again and this was a “one-time shot.”
In a recent interview with the Daily Journal, Tagert said rails, airports and waterways join good roads as important features in a total transportation system.
“We have an extensive rail system – it needs more recognition – and our short lines are under-utilized,” Tagert said. “Rail opens up opportunities for smaller communities that may not have a four-lane.”
He also said that whatever projects and plans he champions at MDOT must be “justifiable” by cost and regional or statewide impact.
He said his job has given him a wider perspective on what Mississippi’s transportation needs are and will be to provide opportunities for economic development, jobs and better living standards for the state’s residents.
He said it’s time for the Transportation Commission to be more than road-builders for “more effective, pragmatic leadership” to build stronger relationships with the Legislature and the public so that newly developed goals are more likely to gain necessary support for funding.
He also said with the prospect of hiring a new executive director and a new officeholder in the Southern District seat, “we can take a good look at the agency, think about what we can have and exactly what we need, which is effective management and the good image it deserves.”
The state’s most recent plan for highway construction and roadway upgrades – known as Vision 21 – needs the same funding commitments that completed the 1987 Highway Act for four-lane programs statewide, Tagert said.
While he said he doesn’t favor an increase in the state fuel tax, which currently funds much of the state’s transportation programs, it’s an issue that will come up eventually, he predicts.
Tagert also said he:
– Sees “huge opportunities” for Mississippi’s Gulf port and waterway system after the 2014 completion of a Panama Canal expansion to accommodate super-sized cargo ships and says he’s worked “extensively” with the region’s transportation departments to prepare for trade expansion.
– Will seek federal funding for projects that can be “justified” as regional or statewide investments, rather than small, piece-meal funding regarded as “earmarks” or pork-barrel spending brought home by individual members of Congress.
– Supports yearly progress on transportation goals, saying he believes the state has the funding in its budget to make progress on Vision 21, including a Highway 15 upgrade to a prominent north-south corridor.
Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or patsy.Brumfield@journalinc.com.
Mike Tagert 21,111 53%
John Caldwell 18,737 47%
628 of 628 precincts reporting