Gov.-elect Mike Beebe met the press at the Capitol today. He was on home turf, talking about legislating. It was an easy assignment for him, in other words.
He promised a rapid study of the budget and its burgeoning surplus and a specific proposal about phasing out the sales tax on groceries. He said he'd be more a governor in the style of Bill Clinton, circulating among his "friends" in the legislature, than receiving people in his office, as Mike Huckabee has done. Asked if he had a specific area on which he'd work more than any other, he gave the natural response -- working with the legislature. He followed this quickly by saying that, of course, education was at the top of his concerns, too.
Beebe, in response to m y question, said his new chief of staff, Morril Harriman, fresh from a job as the chief poultry lobbyist, would be separated from poultry matters for at least a couple of years. But he said Harriman was honest and that he trusted him. His selection is a popular choice among legislators.
It was a smooth, positive performance. Like politicians everywhere nowadays, he had some props to enliven things, a cute little girl from Beebe who'd made a vote-for-Beebe sign for him during the campaign and whose mother's e-mail had touched Beebe and his staff.
Inside the Capitol, budget hearings are in full swing. Human Services wants $300 million more. The rural roads lobby wants $100 million. School construction needs are in the hundreds of millions. Prisons need staffing. Some say the Medicaid needs aren't necessarily fully known. Removing the sales tax on food would take $250 million or so. Greedy legislators want pork. The job will require juggling and negotiating. Beebe takes office with plenty of relevant experience.