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No ideas, no momentum

by John Brummett | May 1, 2012 at 3:56 a.m.

— The only idea the Arkansas Democratic Party has revealed in years was to run a thin gerrymandered line to Fayetteville to nab new Democratic votes for the 4th Congressional District.

Ultimately failed, the attempt was to enhance the re-election efforts of U.S. Rep. Mike Ross, who is the state’s last surviving nominal Democrat in the House of Representatives.

But Ross was keeping to himself that he didn’t intend to run again anyway. Finessing national Democratic positions to stay elected in a conservative district-which is a tactic, not an idea-was getting harder all the time.

So now it’s all but certain that a Republican, either war veteran Tom Cotton or beauty pageant winner Beth Anne Rankin, will take Ross’ seat.

Democrats could find no one better to run than a Hot Springs lawyer named Q. Byrum Hurst. Reporting by this newspaper shows that Hurst has even more tax liens against himself or his enterprises than does the Democrats’ resoundingly defeated congressional candidate in the 2nd District last time, state Sen. Joyce Elliott.

This bankruptcy of the state Democratic Party-ideologically, intellectually, essentially-is not new. It actually is heritage and tradition.

The party always was a loose excuse for a political organization. A one-party state, which is what Arkansas was until a few months ago, really is a no-party state.

So the Arkansas Democratic Party was a silent partner in the state’s racist and corrupt machine politics through most of the 1950s and 1960s. Republican Winthrop Rockefeller forced the Democrats to embrace their own progressive reformers, people with names like Bumpers, Pryor and Clinton. Those rare political talents got elected not on party ideology, but on a cult of personality.

Now the inertia has been disturbed and the rare talents are in emeritus status. So the Democrats, facing competition for the first time, lack any clue.

Surging Republicans stand poised to take over on the strength of ideas. Some of the ideas are not as horrid as others, but at least they are ideas.

Republicans want unfettered charter schools and more school choice. Another idea is one on which I’ll debate Republican state Rep. Charlie Collins in Fayetteville at the end of the month, probably because there’s no Democratic politician willing to do it.

I refer to the state Republican idea to cut income taxes to provide a supposed “job magnet” for the state.

It could well so erode revenue as to imperil vital educational and human services in our inordinately poor and needy state.

To be fair, Gov. Mike Beebe has a reasonably fresh idea resisted by doctor-friendly Republicans, which is to bundle some medical expenses under Medicaid and pay for good results. But that’s not a universally embraced initiative of his state party.

Today’s best reform idea in Arkansas, which is for real ethical standards to ban lobbyists’ favors to legislators among other things, percolates not from either political party. It rises from scruffy protesters’ tents and the noble government classroom of a teacher at Little Rock Catholic High School.

The state Democratic chairman, Will Bond, tells The Associated Press that he likes the reform personally, but that we will have to wait to see about any official view of the party.

A progressive minded young lawyer and politico, Bond has the right instinct. But he doesn’t lead his party. He stands down for it.

Nowhere is the Democratic bankruptcy more evident than in the 2nd Congressional District.

Only a few months ago, an independently liberal Democrat, Vic Snyder, held that office with such integrity that envious opponents bitterly dubbed him “St. Vic.”

Now the congressional seat has been taken over by a Karl Rove Republican operative, Tim Griffin. The best the Democrats could do two years ago for an opponent was the aforementioned Elliott, who got beat practically two-to-one. The best they can do this time is a noble Democratic reformer, but of distant yesteryear.

The 74-year-old Herb Rule-a fine and admirable Yale-educated fellow-brings to this quixotic endeavor only a deservedly proud memory of glory days nearly five decades ago. That was when he unseated state Rep. Paul Van Dalsem of the infamous remark about keeping women barefoot and pregnant.

The only worthy thing Arkansas Democrats have to say is that they are not Republicans. That probably will be enough eventually, but only after a few disastrous years of Republican control.



John Brummett is a regular columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at and read his blog at

Editorial, Pages 15 on 05/01/2012

Print Headline: No ideas, no momentum


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