Caldwell told the Tribune Wednesday he returned 13.8 percent of each donor’s contributions, an amount corresponding with his leftover funds after winning the House seat against Democrat Lillian Burnaman in November’s general election.
“We wrote the checks on Nov. 7, the day after the election ended, and they were mailed last week,” Caldwell said.
Caldwell’s website shows a balance of $444, money contributors told him to keep for his next campaign after he mailed out the checks.
“I’m not going to make that decision for them. That has to be up to them,” Caldwell said.
During his campaign, Caldwell did not accept money from lobbyists or out-of-state donors and recorded all monetary and in-kind contributions.
“The state requires that you disclose contributions of more than $100, but we did every penny. I think it’s the right thing to do,” he said.
Before facing Burnaman in the general election, Caldwell earned 53 percent of votes in the Republican primary, beating out incumbent Rep. Charlice Byrd(R-Woodstock.)
When Caldwell, 23, hits the legislature in January, he’ll be the youngest member of the Georgia General Assembly. And he’s already got plans for what to do when he gets there.
“I promised that the first thing I would do is drop a bill for term limits, and that’s what I’ll do,” he said.
He will represent about 54,000 residents of Woodstock, Towne Lake and the Sixes Road area.
Caldwell first ran for the state House in 2010, losing to Byrd but earning 45 percent of votes cast.
“Part of the problem was that I didn’t know what I was doing,” Caldwell said, noting that his own 2010 campaign was the first political campaign he’d worked on.
“I didn’t know how to talk, what to say, where to go, where not to go,” he said.
Caldwell became interested in state government as an observer in high school, but said he didn’t have a dream to become a legislator.
“When I realized (Byrd) was going to run unopposed (in 2010), that really bothered me,” he said.
After his defeat, Caldwell said he wasn’t sold on a 2012 run but wanted to keep the option alive.
“I thought, ‘There might be something to this message,’ and I went back at it. It seems like it resonated louder this time,” he said.
Caldwell moved to Woodstock at 11 years old and graduated from Etowah High School.
“This has always been home for me,” he said.
He is married to his high school sweetheart, Katie Caldwell, a teacher at Cherokee Charter Academy. They reside in Towne Lake.
Now, Caldwell is a regional sales manager for Python Safety, a Woodstock-based small business selling construction safety equipment.
“I was employee number five, and now we’re at 25. I’m proud to say I’ve been an instrumental part of building this business, and that experience building a business in Cherokee helps,” he said.
Caldwell admits it will be difficult to balance traveling for work with meeting his legislative responsibilities, but said he believes strongly in being a working legislator.
“The legislature is intended, I think, to be a part-time, working citizen legislature with people who go back and support their families when not spending time legislating,” he said.
The biggest concerns Caldwell said he’s heard during his campaigns have been about education. He has faithfully attended Cherokee County Board of Education meetings for the last four years.
“Part of our biggest problem is the nature of QBE (Quality-Based Education) funding is that it doesn’t take into account that state budget. It doesn’t take into account what’s been brought in, and that sets it up for failure. It becomes a broken promise, and I think we need to tweak the formula,” he said.
Many comments from Cherokeeans have centered on issues of charter schools and school choice, Caldwell said.
“We’ve gotten into this win-or-lose mentality. As long as we can’t find a middle ground, kids are going to lose,” he said.
Attracting manufacturing jobs would be the best answer for economic development in Cherokee County, Caldwell said, but he’s not sure how the county can go about it.
“Cherokee has everything we need to do that. We have a water source, transportation, and an educated workforce. I don’t know the silver bullet answer there, but that’s part of what I really want to start hunting after,” he said.
Caldwell describes himself as “very conservative.”
“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 state government out of our business. Sometimes that perspective falls conservative, sometimes it falls libertarian, sometimes it falls liberal,” he said.
Caldwell does not support the federal healthcare changes known as Obamacare, calling the mandates “unconstitutional.”
“I don’t care what the Supreme Court tries to tell us…it should have been left to the states. Whether people believe in the concept or not, it’s unconstitutional. I’m going to work to stop federal unconstitutional mandates from reaching the citizens of Georgia,” he said.
To prepare for his entrance into the legislature, Caldwell said he’s trying to get as much as possible done at work. He attended legislative orientation earlier this month and will attend the Biennial Institute in Athens with other legislators in December.
On Dec. 6, Caldwell and the rest of the local delegation will hold sessions with Cherokee County’s civic leaders and community members in meetings at the Cherokee County Administrative Building.