Slimantics: Notes on the municipal elections

June 5, 2013 10:35:16 AM

Slim Smith - [email protected]


Tuesday's municipal elections reaffirmed something Abraham Lincoln said during the Gettysburg Address about the nature of our system of government. 


Ours is a government of some of the people, by some of the people and for some of the people. 


Just 30 percent of registered voters in Columbus bothered to exercise their right to vote Tuesday. In Starkville, the number were even more discouraging. Despite one of the most emotionally-charged and intriguing races in the city's history, roughly 25 percent of Starkville voters found their way to the polls. 


We fielded one complaint from a resident who said poll locations weren't prominently marked and that insufficient signage might be a reason for depressed turnout. Certainly, it would do no harm for more conspicuous signs at polling locations, but it's hardly a reason for low turn-out. If people really want to find something, they'll find it. It might require a little more effort to find the polling place, but it's hardly a scavenger hunt. 


I wish I could offer a good reason for the low turn-out. Nothing comes to mind. 


When Winston Churchill noted that "never was so much owed by so many to so few," he might as well have been talking about all of the candidates who won office through the efforts of a small minority of engaged citizens. 


What does that mean? The next time one of your fellow citizens starts to complain about what the mayor or city council in Columbus is up to, there is better than a two-in-three chance that the complainer didn't even bother to vote. In Starkville, it's a three-in-four likelihood the complainer's interest in civic matters is so superficial as to be ignored. 


For what it's worth, Democrats may take their lump in state-wide elections, but they flexed considerable muscle during municipal elections across the state Tuesday. 


Of the major Mississippi cities, long-time Biloxi mayor A.J. Holloway was one of the few to carry the Republican Party mantle to victory. Almost everywhere else, it was a great night to be a Donkey. Democrats won the day in Columbus (Robert Smith), Starkville (Parker Wiseman), Tupelo (Jason Shelton), Jackson (Chokwe Lumumba), Meridian (Percy Bland), Hattiesburg (Johnny DuPree) and Ocean Springs (Connie Moran). 


What is interesting about all this is that the state GOP, apparently feeling its oats at the state level, actively campaigned in many of those races, applying a scorched earth policy designed to rid the Magnolia State of the last vestiges of Democratic rule. 


Governor Phil Bryant attended fund-raisers for GOP candidates in several of those cities, most notably in Starkville and Tupelo, where the GOP turned to its most reliable stable of candidates -- a couple of white guys in their 70s -- in a bid to further saturate the state with Republican ideology. The result? Shelton, 36, is the first Democratic mayor in the city in 28 years. Wiseman, now 32, was the youngest mayor in the city's history when he won in 2009. 


Bryant's ham-fisted intrusion into those races wasn't a difference-maker for those Republican candidates -- or it least it was not the kind of difference-maker those GOP hopefuls had in mind. On the same day that voters went to polls, Bryant was in Washington suggesting that working moms are responsible for the declining state of the American educational system. If there were any working moms on the fence in Tupelo or Starkville Tuesday afternoon, I doubt they rushed to the polls to pull the lever for the Republican candidate Bryant had been swooning over. 


To be fair, we should not blame Bryant for making idiotic statements; his mom had to work when he was growing up.  


I intend to ask one of our state legislators (perhaps Gary Chism, since he'll sponsor just about anything) to introduce a bill in the Legislature to prohibit our state's elected officials from leaving the state on the theory that every single time they venture onto the national stage, they say something really embarrassing.  


Regardless of your political affiliation, the best result that may come from Tuesday's municipal elections is that it may have taught state political parties to keep their rhetoric-dripping noses out of city government. Our state elected officials should confine their energies to what they do best: unilaterally overturning U.S. Supreme Court decisions and working up plans for seceding from the union. 


If ever there was a place where partisan politics is not just an nuisance but a deterrent to good government, it is on the local level. There are no Republican potholes or Democratic potholes. There are just potholes that people want filled. It's pretty simple. Rarely is anything touching city government a Democratic vs. Republican issue.  


That's just the way it ought to be.

Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]