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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Time for a frank discussion

by John Brummett | March 1, 2023 at 3:20 a.m.

Here’s another little something for your newspaper about the transgender issue. I tell you in case you’ve had it with all that and want to move on to something else.

This column also is likely to irk both Democrats and Republicans. You are thus likely to wonder why I’d focus on a subject that I suspect readers don’t want to hear and will forge rare agreement among partisans … that they are mad at each other and me.

It’s that some readers might identify with, and benefit from, a frank discussion.

Here goes: The Associated Press ran a national article the other day originating in Little Rock on the subject of transgender persons facing hostilities in state legislatures.

The hook came from Little Rock, not surprisingly. It was the story of a transgender woman pharmacist in the capital city who was testifying to an Arkansas Senate committee on hormone therapy for children and got asked by a state senator if she had a penis.

She said the question was horrible and that she was testifying not on the basis of gender but as a medical professional with relevant views on the bill to make a provider of gender therapy for a minor child susceptible to malpractice litigation for 30 years, now 15 as amended.

I ought to come clean at this point as an old man and pragmatic moderate on politics. It is that I am uncomfortable, wholly in a benign way, with the emergence of the transgender issue.

I agreed the other day with a moderate Democrat and lawyer who said state legislative Democrats make a mistake rising up time and again with passionate defenses of transgender persons facing attacks from Republican legislators. They accomplish nothing, he said, other than getting portrayed in the media in a way that deepens Democrats’ cultural alienation from Arkansas voters, thus their ability to grow back their party.

It’s not about being right against wrong, which Democrats are, but about not being smart in vital political messaging.

Someday things will be different. It might be when Arkansas Democrats transition from a defensive posture on culture issues and play offense with messages and legislation that offer identifiable and tangible benefit economically or otherwise to culturally conservative rural Arkansans. Or it might be when Arkansas voters become enlightened on transgender rights and decide to worry about something else.

These culture-war bills being bandied by Republicans in Arkansas amount to offering bait to Democrats, who are either doing the right thing in rising up passionately in defense of the oppressed or the dumb thing in taking the bait—or both, with the former amounting to the latter.

You should never concede to oppressive legislation; otherwise, there’s no point to holding office. But going to the passionate mat every time defines you culturally and is detrimental.

The answer? The last Democrat elected governor was a chamber of commerce favorite who was pro-business while saying over and over that he was born in a tarpaper shack and would get rid of the tax on groceries.

The Democrats need something like that. It would counterbalance terse “no” votes on all those Republican oppression bills. Well, it might. Arkansas is far different from Mike Beebe’s late ’00s and early 20-teens.

The AP reporter asked for comment from Sen. Matt McKee of Pearcy in rural Garland County, the Republican who asked the transgender woman pharmacist if she had a penis.

He didn’t respond except in writing. He eschewed an actual give-and-take exchange, choosing tactically the limited and safe reply of a written statement he took straight from Sarah Sanders’ playbook.

He wrote to the AP: “As a father of four daughters, I will do everything in my power to protect my children and the children of Arkansas, especially from the woke mob who intend to push their agenda and beliefs down our throats and destroy our families.” First, where is this woke mob? I have occasion to drive southwest of Hot Springs toward Glenwood and to pass along U.S. 70 the little place with the road sign designating Pearcy, an unincorporated community of 300 people.

I see only quiet from the highway. But the map says there is a dollar store and Baptist church back there. Maybe that’s where the woke mobs rage.

Second, how does whether a Little Rock woman pharmacist has a penis threaten to destroy a fine family of four daughters living in beautiful small-town southwestern Arkansas?

Has this pharmacist been hanging out at the dollar store handing out hormone pills and running around fully frontally naked?

If she has, the solution is far less cultural or political than criminal.

Alas, we are left only with questions. Two, mainly.

Why can’t Democrats make vivid some other defining issue or issues of their choosing? And why can’t the people see that there are no frightful mobs in Arkansas unless you count the Republican legislative caucus?


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