by Max Brantley
The debate is streaming nicely here.
Early scoring: Beebe. He's far more aggressive. He knocks A$a's immigration stuff out of the park. There's already a law against state employment of illegals; the State Police have plenty to do; cooperation with the feds is needed, not the state taking over a role that the feds (and Asa himself) have failed at previously.
Rural schools. Asa tried to hang Paron on Mike. No go. That was a local school board decision, he responded, and Beebe also pointed out that the three-hour bus ride charge Asa tosses around is a wildly overstated. Most Paron students don't ride that amount and all can ride less by choosing a different school district. Beebe declares forcefully that he doesn't intend to retreat from tough education standards. He sounds like Mike Huckabee. A$a does not.
Beebe says highway money should follow cars to a large degree, which the NWA audience should love.
Some real questions from real journalists distinguish this debate. Brenda Blagg of the Morning News asked the candidates if they've ever changed their mind on anything. A$a fumbles and finally comes around to mentioning the grocery tax. Not that he was ever against removing it, mind you, just that he's much more for it now.
Beebe, hold your hat, says he has become more of a believer in God since his back-sliding youth. Now he's someone who "recognizes that... without His help we don't do anything." Then he quotes John F. Kennedy. Urp.
This is something that A$a doesn't attempt to rebut. But he talks a little values, too.
The candidates come back to the grocery tax. I agree with Beebe that the legislature should move carefully on removal of the grocery sales tax and thought he scored with his specific explanation. But even if I leaned toward total, instant removal, A$a didn't have an answer for how he'd specifically cope with removing the entire $270 million levy. He's faith-based, kind of like Bush on Iraq. As we've learned, faith alone doesn't conquer all in government. A sharp eye for the bottom line comes first.
If you believe Beebe is leading and that it's his race to lose and that A$a hasn't yet found a silver bullet, nothing that's happened tonight should disturb that belief. A few minutes remain as I post this, however. I have to go check dinner.
After meth and immigrants, A$a mostly wants to wreck government, by stripping $270 million worth of grocery taxes out of the budget AND requiring a super majority to raise taxes. Might as well lock up the state and barter it to Mississippi. And he wraps up with his big three -- a lie about Beebe and Paron, (anti) abortion and (love of) guns. Any notion that A$a would depict himself is a crossover candidate can be buried, along with his chances of election.