When voters in the town of Caledonia got to the polls to elect a mayor and board of aldermen this summer, no one will be thinking of George Washington, although a connection can be made between the nation’s first president and the small Mississippi town.
The manner in which Caledonia voters select their leaders is the closest thing we have to the way Washington was elevated to the presidency in 1789.
Of our nation’s soon-to-be 46 presidents, Washington was the only president to run without political affiliation.
That’s how it has always been in Caledonia. Candidates do not run by political affiliation, so there are no primary elections nor primary runoffs.
You could make a pretty good argument that most towns/cities in Mississippi would do well to follow Caledonia’s process. Political party affiliations — more specifically political party ideologies — are largely irrelevant to most local governments. Abortion and climate change aren’t on the agenda. You aren’t likely to hear any candidate for municipal office talking about how a vote for them is a vote against the “coastal elites” or “creeping socialism.”
But in Caledonia you likely will hear the candidates talk about street conditions, what’s going on at the park or plans to add a new patrol car, etc.
The absence of political party affiliation removes the nonsense that obscures and confuses the electorate on the national scale. It’s pretty much a competition of practical politics on this level, as it should be.
So, in an important way, Caledonia is an example of politics in its purest, most simple form.
That is not to say they are without drama, especially in the mayor’s races of late. In 2017, Mitch Wiggins defeated incumbent mayor Bill Lawrence by a single vote and previous mayor’s races have been decided by just a handful of votes.
There is another quality found in small-town elections that sets them apart. They are intimate affairs.
Quinn Parham, who has served three terms as a Caledonia alderman and will run for mayor this year, understands that as well as anyone.
“You can’t go get a biscuit in this town without somebody telling what they think of something you did in the board meeting,” Parham said.
Accountability is never an issue in Caledonia. You live, work and play surrounded by constituents. There’s an awful lot to be said for that.
In a town the size of Caledonia, the issues/challenges/opportunities may be fewer and less complex, but they are by no means less important.
When a business closes in a larger town or city, it’s regrettable. When a business closes in Caledonia, it’s a threat to the town’s budget, which relies heavily on sale tax receipts to run it’s operations.
For years, Caledonia elections have been, quite literally, family affairs. In Caledonia, the family tree of town government still traces its lineage to a handful of families, including the Eggers (the town was once known as Eggersville, after all).
Those candidates who don’t have ties to the founding families almost always are Caledonia born and raised. Most have never lived anywhere else.
The good part of that is that Caledonia candidates are invested in the community in a deep, personal way. When alderman Tammy McCool’s mom died this summer, she had almost made up her mind not to run for a second term this year. But then she saw the way the community reached out to her in the days following her mom’s death. She said that played a role in her decision to run again.
It’s hard to say how long the dynamics that surround elections in Caledonia will persist. The town is growing. New people are moving in, bringing with them new ideas and approaches, which is a healthy thing.
But for now, Caledonia elections are as they have always been – straight-forward and intimate, neighbors choosing among neighbors.
There’s a lot to be said for that where it does and where it can exist.