The very first local election I covered as a journalist was nearly 20 years ago, in 2001, with Mississippi’s municipalities holding elections for mayor and boards of aldermen seats. I was editor of the Southaven Press, a 25,000-circulation weekly and my hometown newspaper – three years into my career in the newspaper industry.
I got my feet wet in election coverage in the presidential election of 2000, infamous for the “hanging chad” and the post-election battle in Florida as the race between George W. Bush and Al Gore took weeks to settle, finally, in the U.S. Supreme Court. Of course, in DeSoto County, a Mississippi Republican strong-hold since the late 1980s, Bush carried the vote by a high margin, so I wasn’t reporting groundbreaking news on the local level.
In the municipal election which following that spring and summer, I got my taste of a real Mississippi election, as municipalities held elections for mayor and board of alderman seats, and in DeSoto County, where a single party still rules, the primary election in May 2001 produced the winning candidates.
In Southaven, where the population was approximately 15,000 then, the mayoral race was huge. Southaven boasted a strong, full-time mayor and a seven-person board of aldermen.
Incumbent Southaven Mayor Greg Davis was facing challenger Bryant Scott Walker in the Republican Primary. Davis was completing his first term as mayor, and he already served a term in the Mississippi House of Representatives. Southaven was “on the grow” with the construction of Snowden Grove Park and new commercial developments at the Goodman Road/Interstate 55 interchange. Southaven would soon become very different than the city I grew up in.
Davis was re-elected by a significant margin, as expected by most, but that didn’t stop the way he campaigned.
I learned a lot about Mississippi politics during that 2001 election. I learned about campaign advertising, political signs, and political promises. I also learned that signs don’t vote, and anything can happen on Election Day.
Davis told me years ago, “You either run unopposed or you run scared.”
And he was right. Over the years, I’ve seen longtime incumbents handily defeated by challengers. I have seen results silence a courtroom full of people as so many were surprised by how the election shook out.
That was the case in this Primary Election on August 6 as well as the Primary Runoff Tuesday.
Tuesday’s runoff election saw several longtime incumbents in Carroll, Montgomery, and surrounding counties unseated, and new faces to the political scene put in their place. In both Carroll and Montgomery counties, three-term incumbents were defeated, and in neighboring Grenada County, the longtime sheriff was unseated.
I’m not one to predict elections, probably from years of seeing frontrunners defeated at the ballot box, and I didn’t start this year. The unpredictable nature is probably the reason I love local elections so much – the Democratic process at work.
In local races, your individual vote counts. In Montgomery County this Primary Election, two different races were determined by less than 10 votes. In one of those, only five votes determined the winner of the race. Talk about too close to call! The winner of that race wasn’t called before every affidavit vote was counted several days later.
The first round of this year’s election may be over, but November’s General Election will be here before we know it. In both Carroll and Montgomery counties, several countywide races will be determined in November – chancery clerk and tax assessor, as well as the Beat 2 supervisor seat, in Carroll County and sheriff, tax assessor, and two supervisor seats in Montgomery County.
Congratulations to those who were victorious in the Primary Election, and best wishes to those with more race to run. I look forward to what local voters have to say at the polls.