by Max Brantley
Rep. Mark Martin (R-Twilight Zone) is his party's candidate for secretary of state. He used an appearance today before the Association of Arkansas Election Commissioners to lay out a campaign issue. He has a variety of proposals — some infringing on the 1st Amendment — to limit political activities of people in that office.
The main point of his announcement, though, is to remind people of something irrelevant to the secretary of state's office — that his Democratic opponent, Pulaski County Clerk Pat O'Brien campaigned for Barack Obama in 2010.
Nothing illegal about that, Martin agrees, but it just gives a bad appearance, he says. Particularly, you are supposed to infer, when that person O'Brien supported is, well, you know, that swarthy fellow who was born in a mosque in Indonesia. I'm surprised he didn't distribute an Obama photograph with the release. (Oh, wait, he did, through a YouTube link.) The sliming was instantly reinforced by the Arkansas GOP with a news release invoking Obama a few more times. Somebody who heard the speech (this account is based on Martin's release) described it as bizarre. Martin managed to link O'Brien, Obama, Pakistan and violence and chaos. If Pat O'Brien is elected, I guess, the Taliban will take over.. Martin's suggestion that he'd not be partisan in redistricting is, of course, risible. If his effort today was to persuade people he was more mainstream than he seems, it wasn't a good start.
Martin would prohibit election division employees of the secretary of state from making political contributions or publicly participating in campaigns. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the Congress of the United States may not prohibit corporations from making campaign contributions. How a custodial government official could prohibit such a protected act by a state employee is a mystery to me. His proposal is also perfectly meaningless. He'd still allow his employees to contribute to the Arkansas Republican Party (or the Democratic Party, if you believe he'd hire a Democrat), which could, of course, then spend money in support of individual candidates. It's a distinction with little difference. He also says his "non-partisan" operating rules would allow him or his employees to hold offices in the Republican Party (or the Democratic Party if you believe he'd hire a Democrat.) This is supposed to build confidence that his office is "non-partisan?"
Martin thinks it was bad form for O'Brien, the "chief elected election official" in the county to support Obama. O'Brien is no such thing. O'Brien doesn't run elections. The County Election Commission — composed of three members selected by political parties — does that. The clerk maintains the record of registered voters. In some counties, but not Pulaski, the clerk may also handle some administrative duties for the Election Commission. Whether he endorsed Obama or not, the county clerk is a partisan elected officials . The partisan makeup of constitutional officers decide which party has the majority control of county election commissions. You could just as easily say ALL county clerks create the appearance of impropriety by handling voter registration. Indeed, so does the secretary of state.
This is simple. When they say it's not about Obama .... it's about Obama. Who, believe it or not, has no relevance to maintaining the official seal of Arkansas, taking corporate filings, receiving campaign finance reports or otherwise handling the ministerial duties of office. I'll grant you, it might work in Arkansas.
Martin's news release:
State Representative Mark Martin announced proposed new recommendations for limiting political activity on the part of employees of the Secretary of State’s office and himself. This occurred during a presentation to the Association of Arkansas Election Commissioners.
“During the 2008 Presidential election, Mr. O’Brien actively worked on the campaign of Barack Obama while he was serving as the chief elected election official in Pulaski County. Not only did he endorse Barack Obama, but he served as the chief spokesman for the Obama campaign in Arkansas,” Martin stated. “To be clear, I am not saying that he did anything illegal, but I am saying that he created an appearance of impropriety in the election process. As an election official, it is your duty to make sure that the elections are beyond reproach. I think Mr. O’Brien’s work on behalf of the Obama campaign created an appearance of a conflict of interest that was likely troublesome to many voters,” Martin added.
Martin continued, “In an effort to ensure that the people of Arkansas know that I will try to run a fair and non-partisan office, I am announcing the following restrictions on the Secretary of State’s Election Division employees, and that staff responsible for supervising Election Division personnel, if I am elected:
“PROHIBITED POLITICAL ACTIVITIES:
* Publicly endorse or oppose, or actively work for or against a candidate for an elected public office, a statewide ballot initiative, amendment, or referendum.
* Contribute to a candidate for an elected public office, or an organization created for the sole purpose of working for or against a statewide ballot initiative or a referendum.
* Be a candidate for, or hold an elected public office.
“PERMITTED POLITICAL ACTIVITIES:
* Register to vote under a partisan affiliation.
* May contribute to a political party or partisan organization.
* Hold an official position in a partisan organization or political party.
* Participate in the partisan nominating process by voting in primaries and attending county/state/national committee meetings, assemblies or conventions.”
Martin finished by saying, “We have restrictions on what Election Commissioners can do, shouldn’t we have restrictions on how the chief election official in the state behaves in the election process? I think we should hold the state’s chief elections official to the same high standards; so I will adhere to the same restrictions regarding endorsing or contributing to partisan candidates, statewide referendums, and ballot initiatives.”
Videos of Mr. O’Brien’s use of his official title in the endorsement and campaigning for Barack Obama can be found at http://www.youtube.com/user/Arkansas4Obama.