The governor pooh-poohed one of my questions the other day by saying I was only giving him a hard time because I always have less "balance" in my commentary during election seasons.
I will give him this much: I have been called a partisan hack less gently.
There is a kernel of accuracy in Gov. Asa Hutchinson's observation. But a full exploration of context will show that I am less a partisan hack than an opinion writer who tailors his honest and consistent center-left view to the spirit of the season, and seasons differ.
I also write differently regarding national and state politics, because they vastly differ. National issues are almost always strictly ideological; my take will be more predictable. State issues are more about keeping the state government running to get needs met on a budget you have to balance.
By that difference, I could, and did, disapprove of Hutchinson as a congressman and approve of him as a governor, with a couple of exceptions both ways.
In that regard, Hutchinson and Mike Beebe have been in several ways pretty much the same governor, one center-right and one center, except that Beebe had the cultural advantage of not going to Bob Jones University. Asa did, but may have gotten over a lot of it by now.
What the governor apparently has observed is that I have tended to write during his gubernatorial campaigns more favorably of his Democratic opponents than of him, then to turn appreciative of his pragmatic governing after he wins.
That seems perfectly logical to me.
A campaign season is for a binary choice between two candidates. I have tended in the recent gubernatorial context to prefer the general positions and presentations--in recent order--of Beebe, Mike Ross and Jared Henderson, the Democrats.
But that's not always the case. I hope Hutchinson remembers that I wrote during his 2014 battle with Ross that it would be better for the vital prospect of saving Medicaid expansion--the private option now called Arkansas Works--if Asa defeated Ross.
My premise was that Asa would try to do the responsible thing and save the program if elected, and that the Republican legislature would more readily go along with him than Ross.
As we now know, Hutchinson indeed endeavored to save the program and brought along enough Republican legislators to succeed. It was the season for governing, and Asa was doing a good job of it.
Saving Medicaid expansion preserved health insurance for tens of thousands of poor people, helped keep rates down for all of us by delivering those tens of thousands of premium-paying customers to the private marketplace, and fortified the state budget.
My approval of Asa's governing in that instance did not mean I favored him in election season when he was opposed for re-election by a smart newcomer.
Young Jared Henderson appropriately took Asa to task for trying to add a work requirement--a computer-click requirement, actually--to that Medicaid expansion. The federal courts have stopped that nonsense thus far, although the federal courts could well be ruined along with everything else if the monstrous Donald Trump gets a second presidential term.
Trump's personal lawyer masquerading as the federal attorney general has specifically promised to use the Justice Department to try to get a computer-click requirement for Medicaid declared legal.
It's right-wing window dressing, raw steak for hungry conservatives wanting to punish the poor. That's unless you really want to let a poor guy get sicker and maybe die for not jumping through a few reporting hoops to prove, ostensibly, that he is entitled to health insurance because he's at least looking for a job.
The way to get a poor man a job is not to let him get sicker.
Forgive me. I tend to go on Medicaid expansion rants sometimes.
What's interesting about Asa's remark about "balance" was that he's not in campaign season himself right now. But the hideous Trump is.
Perhaps the governor's point is that I'm taking an unbalanced broad swipe this season at anyone affiliated on a partisan basis with the preposterous second-place and Russia-endorsed president.
Let me stipulate that I, for one, do not equate Hutchinson and Trump.
I also would stipulate that I am disdainful of Trump equally in campaign and governing seasons. Trump is a disgrace for all seasons.
To conclude, I plead innocent to an intimation of a disingenuous lack of balance during campaign seasons. I offer both balance and an absence of balance that is honest and logical.
Perhaps this day's digression has helped illuminate for the governor and readers some of the finer points of state-based opinion writing.
P.S.--I look forward to critical campaign-season commentary assailing Sarah Huckabee Sanders in 2022, then to pleasant surprise when she turns out not as bad as I thought.
Her book about the wonder of Trump will be out in a few days. I sure do dread it.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at email@example.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.