Caldwell, tall, dark-haired with a warm smile, told the crowd, “Too often we find ourselves limiting ourselves to the realm of the possible.” He didn’t elaborate on that but said leaders must be “willing to stand on principle, not just possibility, to stand up and say the Constitution is not for trade.”
“We have to bring boldness and innovation back to this party and that is the only way we will win the next generation,” he said. That might refer to his approach as freshman representative in the General Assembly. He has staked out ground as committed to total transparency. Both he and freshman Scot Turner (R-Holly Springs) post their votes — and reasons for their votes — on both Twitter and Facebook.
Caldwell brings a breath of fresh air to politics. Not only does he post his votes and explain them but he refused to accept campaign contributions from lobbyists or out-of-state donors, and he disclosed every penny of cash and in-kind contributions even though state law does not require disclosure of contributions of less than $100.
The day after the Nov. 6 general election last year, his campaign started writing checks to return to contributors 13.8 percent of their gifts, corresponding to the portion he had left over after swamping his Democratic opponent. He wound up with $444 that contributors said he should keep for his next campaign. To which he responded: “I’m not going to make that decision for them. That has to be up to them.”
The first bill Caldwell introduced, as promised, was one to limit the terms of Georgia legislators. The proposed constitutional amendment would set a limit of four consecutive terms, but would allow a member to run again after sitting out one full term. Of course, the proposal is going nowhere but the point is that Caldwell, joined by two other freshmen, his Cherokee colleague Scot Turner and Rep. John Pezold (R-Fortson), had the right idea and he kept his promise to voters.
Caldwell is regional sales manager for Python Safety Inc., a Woodstock-based small business that sells construction safety equipment. The business has grown from five when he joined the company to 25. As the Cherokee Tribune reported, Caldwell described himself as “very conservative,” and said: “I just want government out of my business. My goal is to go to the Capitol, measure everything against the state Constitution and get the government out of our business.” Then he added this provocative line: “Sometimes that perspective falls conservative, sometimes it falls libertarian, sometimes it falls liberal.”
No matter which way it falls, Michael Caldwell is making moves that could make a mark for him in Georgia politics in the years ahead — and, no doubt, we will learn more about “boldness and innovation,” Caldwell-style.
Don McKee is a columnist for The Cherokee Tribune.