by Max Brantley
I just had a visit from L.J. Bryant, the fresh-faced 23-year-old from Jonesboro who's brimming with ideas to bring the land commissioner's office into the 21st century -- 10 years after the fact.
He makes a believable case that established technology (not iffy, expensive dream stuff) exists for improvements that would make the handling of delinquent tax properties more efficient, more accessible and more transparent. Why shouldn't bidding on-line be allowed? Why shouldn't payments be allowed with credit cards? Why shouldn't you be able to go on-line to view properties, rather than be forced to rely on dense published legal descriptions that only the most experienced professionals can parse?
The Democrat-Gazette endorsed Bryant this morning and columnist Meredith Oakley had earlier pointed out the lack of ideas that "distinguish" the other candidates. They may be onto something.
My conversation with Bryant concerned his work in 2006 for the lt. governor candidacy of Tim Wooldridge and then legislative work for Senate Pro Tem Jack Critcher. Two solid strikes, in my political playbook. Bryant, a Hendrix grad, had a ready response. They gave him opportunities and he likes them but he claims a "progressive" political outlook -- a word you could never apply to those two. The union man who's driving Bryant around and Bryant's expressed support for card check legislation lent some tangible backing to his claim. He also promised that he and his staff would accept no gifts, meals, emoluments from lobbyists.
Check out his website. This is an under-the-radar race that seems likely to come down to a young person brimming with ideas, Bryant, and a good ole boy legislator, Monty Davenport, looking to semi-retire into the comfort and perks of status quo government service. It deserves a little attention.
UPDATE: Supporters of Monty Davenport who carry credibility with me say Davenport has been getting a bad shake from the limited press coverage. They say he's a seasoned and dependable legislator whose record was progressive in the context of his home district in the hills. They credit Bryant for crafting some good ideas, but think he's naive about winning legislative expansion of a constitutional office that, truth be told, shouldn't exist but for an outdated Constitution. Davenport's reluctance to commit to new expenditures is guided by past state folly on some past tech purchases.