JOHN BRUMMETT: Arkansas political primer

It's Friday and I'm departing momentarily for Rogers to speak to Benton County Democrats, once an oxymoron, but now a modestly emerging thing.

I thought I'd share with the readership what I intend to say, beginning with the usual disclaimer: I'd speak to Republicans as well, and I'm not a Democrat but an opinion columnist who endeavors to tell the truth and thus often sounds like a Democrat.

Good things are happening nationwide for Democrats. But Arkansas is a place of static culture. It historically comes straggling to national trends.

That's except for two dynamic areas--Greater Little Rock, somewhat, and Benton County, for sure, with explosions of population, commerce and culture.

There, the broader national Democratic trend has a chance--not so much to produce victory, but show life. It's reflected in a vigorous congressional race developing in the Greater Little Rock area. And it's reflected in an array of more Democratic state legislative candidates in Benton County, several of them women, than in recent years combined in that raging Republican hotbed.

(The Jonesboro-Paragould area is the exception proving my rule. It is dynamic in population and commerce but no apparent threat to reflect remotely any pro-Democratic national trends.)

Living in a dynamic area awash in transplants, invigorated Benton County Democrats might appreciate a brief primer on the history of Arkansas Democratic politics.

Once Arkansas Democrats ruled nominally and monolithically. Democratic legislators in those days were about as reactionary as Republicans now. Left-of-center Democrats of national-caliber talent controlled the governor's office by cult of personality. But when those men--Bumpers, Pryor, Clinton--grew old, Arkansas plummeted into Republicanism.

The state Democratic Party became moribund, knowing nothing other than to bring back Bill Clinton to speak to a silver-haired choir of weakened voices. Then, in 2016, the utter rejection of Clinton became apparent.

If Arkansas Democrats are to begin to revive, they must do so with new candidates, women especially, coming forward in dynamic places like Benton County to run with new passions.

As it happens, there are three currently raging Democratic passions.

The first is fierce resistance to Donald Trump. My advice to Benton County Democrats--to everyone--is to de-obsess on the criminal investigation of Trump. It's to obsess instead on his already-confirmed general disgrace.

Democrats do not need impeachment to argue that Trump--by volatile temperament, childishly rude behavior and coarse, empty and dishonest rhetoric--is unfit to lead this great nation.

The second is the women's movement. Testosterone builds muscle and gives confidence, but a little of it goes a long way in governing. Road rage and flipped fingers do not sound policy make. Arkansas will be better off when its Legislature, regardless of party, is 51 percent female.

I include in the women's movement the teen-driven issue of guns. If I might generalize and stereotype shamelessly ... dads tend to like their gear and gadgets, including their weapons, and moms tend to like reasoning together to make the world safer for their children.

Here's what I mean: When I was 5 my dad came home in a new-to-us Pontiac of high horsepower. He took the family for a drive in southern Pulaski County. I could see from the back seat that the car's speed had topped 90 miles per hour. My mother, in the front seat, was urgently commanding my dad to slow down because he had my sister and me in the back seat. The way my dad was driving was no way to govern. My mom's position was the sounder governmental one.

The third passion is health care. Democrats must never let voters forget that the Republican U.S. House of Representatives--including Steve Womack representing Benton County and French Hill representing Greater Little Rock--voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with next-to-nothing.

They adopted a provision to remove federal premium-equity for persons with pre-existing conditions. They would have turned that determination back to state-by-state discretion with authority for "risk pools" to help people with chronic and expensive diseases who would get gouged on their premiums.

Meantime, down in Central Arkansas: State Rep. Clarke Tucker, the establishment Democratic congressional candidate, got a mention in the New York Times on Wednesday. It was as a possible Conor Lamb type in a suburban district a lot like the one abutting Pittsburgh in which Lamb claimed victory Tuesday.

The piece described Tucker as "aggressively recruited" by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. That surely fuels resentment among supporters of primary rivals Paul Spencer and Gwen Combs--Spencer on a mission to wipe unregulated and undisclosed big money out of politics and Combs the local organizer of the women's march.

I thought I'd ask the Benton County Democrats what they made of a Democratic primary that had that kind of passionate competition. And I thought I'd answer. It makes for a political party stirring as if trying hard to rise from its ashes.


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

Editorial on 03/18/2018

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