Somewhere in the middle may be just right

Published 9:47 pm Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Three things you should never discuss in public in polite company in the South are religion, politics and barbecue.

That’s the message my favorite Southern politics expert Bill Ferris — a history professor — conveyed to me last week when I called to talk about the circus of elections in Adams County.

But for the last four years, and especially the last year, it seems not many in Adams County abided by the middle lesson of that rule — politics.

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More voters than normal seem aware of a 3-2 voting split on the county board of supervisors. The county residents feel recreation and roads have been ignored. And some of the population seems itching for a change.

And that would be why the ballot is so full, professor Ferris said.

“It sounds like there is significant change under way in Natchez,” he said. “When you have that kind of interest in an electoral event it means people are involved in ways that reflect dissatisfaction with the status quo.”

District 1 supervisor Sammy Cauthen has served a lifetime on the board. He’s been the constant presence for approximately 30 years.

This year, he has five challengers.

Thomas “Boo” Campbell pulls up next in the line of experience.

He has four opponents.

And Board President Darryl Grennell pulls third in rank.

He has two challengers.

Many of the candidates challenging the “status quo” will tell you they think they’ll win. Others are realistic but still have a goal — a wakeup call. The challengers want the incumbents to open their eyes, to realize that the public is unhappy and to make a change.

The three longtime incumbents are good men, strong leaders and have served us well. But maybe, just maybe, they’ve gotten too comfortable.

Years on the job sometimes make elected officials unresponsive to the voting public, Ferris said.

The challengers in the local race will tell you that is exactly what’s happened in Adams County.

Ferris, a Vicksburg native and the founding director of the University of Mississippi Center for the Study of Southern Culture, said unhappy voters will work together to find candidates of their own to pit against the incumbents.

Nearly every challenger in our local race said they got in the race because a group of friends and family came to them and suggested it.

Adams County is discussing politics publicly.

But will they change things?

Incumbents aren’t all bad. In fact, they are usually the best choice.

“An incumbent has a definite advantage,” Ferris said. “They have resources, contacts, financial support.

Our current supervisors know U.S. Sens. Trent Lott and Thad Cochran. They know the governor. They know the Rentech folks. They have projects in motion, and it might be best to let them finish what they started.

“But if they begin to move in direction that the voting public is not comfortable with, (voters) mount opposition and threaten their future,” Ferris said.

“No one is safe in politics. You can never assume you’ll be reelected.”

And perhaps that’s just what Sammy, Boo and Darryl have done for the last four years. Board upstarts Henry Watts and Spanky Felter sit through meetings asking questions and frequently referring to the voters. Those two sometimes seem too focused on what their constituents would say.

The other three see a bigger picture. They tell you they vote for the county, not for a select group of voters.

But who is right?

It’s got to be somewhere in the middle. And maybe a wakeup call is exactly what we need to reach the right spot.

Julie Finley is the managing editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or