Mississippi elections next week

This tuesday Mississippians will enjoy the wonderful privilege of being able to vote in free and open elections. What a blessing!

According to the website Freedom House, only 45 percent of the world population can vote in free elections. Thirty percent are partly free. Twenty-five percent are not free.

As a citizen, voter and journalist observing the Mississippi election process for five decades, I believe our election system is open, free and fair. It’s not perfect. We still have room to improve, but it’s probably as good as anywhere in the world.

I encourage all voting-age Mississippians to spend some time and educate themselves on the candidates in their city, county and state. In this age of instant communication, anyone with a smartphone, computer or newspaper can easily find basic information on the various candidates. Do your research so you can vote responsibly.

Unlike some, I do not encourage everyone to vote. Some people are simply not interested in politics and don’t do even the most basic research on the candidates and their positions. If you are one of those people, do us all a favor and don’t go to the polls. Leave the decision making to those willing to stay abreast of the issues and make rational decisions. Simply voting based on raw name recognition does not help our state.

In today’s Northside Sun, we have a voters guide to help Northside voters make their decisions. These local elections have serious consequences — roads can be paved or not, local taxes can be raised or lowered, garbage collections, zoning ordinances, neighborhood bridge closures, police actions and a dozen other significant local policies are directly affected by the choices of the voters.

The Northside Sun does not endorse particular candidates. Instead, we focus on reporting local news and local issues. With this knowledge, educated voters can make intelligent decisions. We don’t want to appear partisan or biased in any way toward any particular candidate. Nor do we want to pick favorites based on personalities.

As a columnist, I certainly have opinions on public policy matters. I favor raising the gas tax to maintain our roads. The tax hasn’t been raised in 37 years while road repair materials and labor have quadrupled. Mississippi is only one of three states that hasn’t raised its gas tax to adjust for inflation. This is bad public policy because deferring maintenance causes the ultimate cost to skyrocket and increases car maintenance costs beyond the extra gas tax.

I also support Medicaid reform so that Mississippi quits turning away a billion dollars a year in federal money. That’s nuts for a poor state like Mississippi. When I decide to vote for the governor and lieutenant governor, the positions of the candidates on these public policy issues will determine my selection.

It should be so with everyone. Educate yourself on the important issues of the day and then factor that into your vote.

Certainly, personality and experience play a vital role in our selection criteria. Again, in this day and age, it is easy to research the qualifications and experience of all the candidates. We need leaders who have proven themselves to be good citizens with track records of proven performance.

One example comes to immediately to mind: Brent Bailey is a candidate for the central district Public Service Commission (PSC). A Mississippi State environmental engineer, Bailey has been involved in promoting efficient, renewable energy policy his entire career. For seven years, he was the Mississippi Farm Bureau’s environmental programs coordinator. Then for the past 13 years, he has led the 25x25 initiative in Mississippi which has worked closely with the PSC on a host of energy policies. In other words, he knows what he’s doing. In contrast, several other candidates have little or no experience in PSC matters. It’s just a political office to them.

Anyone doing a minimal amount of research would be able to conclude that Bailey hands down has more experience than any of the other candidates. This is the type of basic research every voter needs to do for all the elections for which they vote. It is a civic duty.

We are fortunate to have excellent candidates for the top offices in our state. I know most of them well enough that I don’t fear for the future of our state. I have never subscribed to excessive political tribalism in which your favorite is idolized and your opponent villainized. These candidates are all successful, high-functioning individuals who will be able to perform the duties of their offices. We have a good slate.

The Attorney General’s race will be interesting. Mark Baker, Lynn Fitch and Andy Taggart are strong candidates each with a host of unique skills. That will be one of the key races to watch.

The Lieutenant Governor’s race will be more predictable. Expect Delbert Hoseman and Jay Hughes to win their respective party nominations.

The big question is whether Tate Reeves can win without a runoff. He’s an extremely experienced and competent politician with a massive war chest and a long list of endorsers. Bill Waller Jr. is very well liked and running a campaign which differs from Reeves on several major public policy issues. His father was an upset winner 50 years ago in a race in which the younger Waller was intimately involved. It will be fascinating to see if history can repeat itself.

Read up. Research. Get involved. Then go vote and enjoy one of the greatest blessings civilized man has ever enjoyed: True democracy in action.

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