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With rare exception, Arkansas loves its governors and would let them serve for lifetimes if the law allowed.

I was telling that the other day to Jared Henderson. I was trying to help the talented young Democrat--who owes it to the state to run again, and then again--feel better about losing two-to-one to Asa Hutchinson.

There was the anomaly of 1980-82 when voters got mad at young Bill Clinton for being too big for his britches, then put him, chastened, back in office two years later. Then there was Jim Guy Tucker's misfortune, which was having done something pre-governorship in private business from which Ken Starr was able to contrive a criminal case, sustaining his special prosecutor's assignment while he waited for Bill Clinton to have sexual relations with that woman and lie about it, which was inevitable.

Otherwise, over recent decades, it's been Gov. Mike Huckabee for 10 years, owing to an extra stint upon Tucker's misfortune; Mike Beebe for the maximum eight years, and Asa Hutchinson going on eight.

We see these governors up close. They have us out to the Governor's Mansion for special events. They manage to avoid the stigmatizing partisan positions besetting politicians in federal representative roles. The state becomes a glorified high school and the governors the winners in who's who as most popular. In a state historically treating politics as entertainment, governors function as the emcees of the variety shows and the fathers who know best.

So, on Monday night in Little Rock, a few hundred of us gathered for a governors' fest. The Arkansas Center for Health Improvement celebrated 20 years of public health advocacy by joining with the Clinton School to present Huckabee and Beebe chatting about state health policy during their governorships spanning most of those 20 years.

Hutchinson made introductory remarks and then sat through the program.

Tucker was graciously in the audience. He's always graciously in the audience. He's never on stage where he ought to be. He gets left out, I guess, because of the Starr debacle.

(Once, in putting together a program for the Butler Center that I would moderate on the formative 1970s in Arkansas politics, I picked a stellar four-member panel. Early in the discussion, I glanced out at the capacity crowd at Ron Robinson Theater and saw the attentive and smiling Tucker, an attorney general, congressman and narrowly losing U.S. Senate candidate during that decade, and thought, "Oh, dear, I'm the one who did it to him this time," relegating him to the dreaded last paragraph: "Also in the room was ..."

So, about the Huckabee-Beebe chat: I put on Twitter as it began that, if they did it right, I'd get three or four columns out of it. As it happens, I'm getting only this one, and most of it is already written without any mention of their largely inconsequential discussion.

They were typically bipartisan, mutually respectful--high-minded in part and yarn-prone in the other part. We do love our governors' old war stories, the more apocryphal and embellished the better.

Two substantive things I took away:

• I was reminded of how thoroughly pragmatic and moderate, even progressive, Huckabee's policies as governor were, even as his rhetoric was often hyperbolic and incendiary. He told me afterward that the governor's job is to solve problems and that solving problems is a conservative undertaking. Expanding health insurance and raising taxes for roads and schools --ask a garden-variety conservative if those are conservative notions. And I asked Huckabee if he would have advocated embracing Medicaid expansion had he been governor. He said probably. He always was better in policy crunch time than in his right-wing bloviation when out of office, as now, on Twitter, which he told me he used for personal amusement to rile people, a perversity I understand by sharing.

• Dr. Joe Thompson, the director of ACHI and moderator, brought up the elephant in the room: Asa's controversial and probably legally doomed work requirement for Medicaid expansion recipients. Beebe, ever pragmatic and loath to criticize Asa sitting in the audience, praised Hutchinson for saving Medicaid expansion. Beebe said he embraced the need to accept imperfection in order to advance a worthy program. The key is not denying needed care unfairly. In other words, he disposed of the delicate subject without saying anything, a courtesy appropriate to the evening.

When David Pryor and Dale Bumpers were doing an event like this, as they often did, Pryor liked to refer to it as "The Antique Road Show." With Dale departed and David recovering from a stroke, the Arkansas feel-good torch may have been passed to these more recent former governors. Huckabee and Beebe dispatched their debut only sufficiently, it being their first gig and with an unrefined shtick.

I recommend booking them for your next convention, if you can get Huckabee off Twitter and Beebe off the golf course.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 12/06/2018

Print Headline: Our beloved governors


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  • Waitjustaminute
    December 7, 2018 at 7:58 a.m.

    JB makes a fair point about Huckabee doing one thing as governor and talking a different game on the national level. However, there's an old expression attributed to Thomas Jefferson that says "the government that serves the people best is the government that is closest to the people." I trust state government to do things like road projects, health care and other welfare programs (albeit, with a good chunk of federal money involved). I trust the federal government as far as I can lift one bloated, unaccountable department of it.

    And hey guys, lay off the personal attacks on PopMom. I don't agree with her take on the Russian collusion issue either, but the old "if you can't attack the message, attack the messenger" approach doesn't do anybody any good.

  • Morebeer
    December 7, 2018 at 9:12 a.m.

    Russkypack has a Kremlin connection — he works in a GRU cubicle — so we should listen when he says there was no collusion. He apparently knows what Mueller knows.

  • Packman
    December 7, 2018 at 9:20 a.m.

    Hey PopSnob - "There was a Trump comment only after others had written defending Trump." This is a lame excuse for using Bush 41's death as an opportunity to bash President Trump. What you did was crass and classless and makes you look like a common low-life. Own it, Pop, and move on.
    For someone that constantly harps about the need for more education in the US, you exhibit an incredible lack of education about Trump voters (..... all of this white supremacist b.s.,...."). As I've recommended to you before, read some of Salena Zito's reporting on typical Trump voters. Salena can educate you greatly.
    But are you saying it's President Trump that spews white supremacist b.s.? Would you mind providing some direct, verifiable quotes along these lines? Bear in mind, Pop, enforcing existing immigration laws and explaining why it's important have nothing to do with white supremacy. BH Obama said and did many of the same things regarding illegal aliens as President Trump. Was Obama a white supremacist?

  • PopMom
    December 7, 2018 at 10:07 a.m.

    Oh pack,

    I know I shouldn’t respond, but as I’m sitting in the service department of car dealership, I’ll just mention a few examples. He wants fewer Hispanics and Muslims in the country. He says the Hispanics are rapists, drug dealers etc. Trump has a history of discriminating against blacks in his business, and they are few in number in the White House. Trump says we need more people such as those from Norway. He is hostile to black female reporters. Trump is kind to white supremacists and described those marching in Charlottesville as “fine” people.

  • Packman
    December 7, 2018 at 10:26 a.m.

    Hey PopSnob - As I suspected you can provide no direct, verifiable quotes that indicates Donald Trump is a white supremacist. Alas......
    Again, enforcing immigration laws and showing concern over bad guys entering the country illegally are in no way racist. Some Hispanics are rapists and drug dealers and human traffickers and generally bad people and we DO NOT want these people in our country. That ain't racist, Pop, that's just common sense.
    President Trump has employed literally thousands of minority individuals in his business interests over the years and the instance you site as "discriminating against blacks" has been debunked countless times. For GAWD's sake, Pop, look what President Trump has done for black unemployment in America today! Is it racist to want to provide jobs for black folks?
    Trump is hostile to all FAKE NEWS reporters. Is Jim Acosta a black female?
    The truth is there were some good folks marching in Charlottesville in support of the confederate flag. Good folks who actually have read Robert E. Lee's writings on the Civil War and understand what southern heritage truly means. But there were also some bad folks. Acknowledging the good AND the bad isn't racist.
    Lastly, Pop, have you taken the time to read some of Salena Zito's work on the typical Trump voter? Stop being a closed-minded coastal elite, Pop. Just stop.

  • RobertBolt
    December 7, 2018 at 10:39 a.m.

    PopMom, you deserve what you get for constantly feeding them. Learn to ignore.

  • Waitjustaminute
    December 7, 2018 at 10:43 a.m.

    ROBERT BOLT, I think PopMom loves to feed them.

    Oh well, I tried to get them to play nice with others . . .

  • GeneralMac
    December 7, 2018 at 11:11 a.m.

    If it wasn't for pointing out spelling errors, ARMNAR would serve no useful purpose here whatsoever.

    He is like the skinny little kid hurling insults then ducking behins a tree.

    He should have stayed in liberal Minnesota.

  • PopMom
    December 7, 2018 at 11:22 a.m.


    I know.