by Max Brantley
Time magazine's Joe Klein passed through Arkansas recently and his stops included a visit in Conway, which produced a post on the Swampland blog.
“You are sitting in a room with visionaries,” Mike Coats, the proprietor of Mike’s Place, told me. The visionaries looked pretty average old-fashioned American to me—a small city mayor, a small city Chamber of Commerce manager, a lawyer, a furniture store owner, a young African-American employee of Hewlett Packard. But they had done something entirely radical: they had launched a campaign to revive their city, and a big part of that campaign had been to convince the state liquor authority to allow Mike Coats to sell booze by the glass. The revival of Conway, Arkansas—using federal funds, including earmarks (!)—is the sort of story we don’t hear much anymore in this Tea-tinged anti-government environment, but it contains some important lessons.
Well, Conway shakers hurry to say downtown Conway was not rebuilt by booze alone. Federal money certainly didn't hurt, though Conway and surrounding territory is a Tea Party hotbed. They hate government spending, see. Mayor Tab Townsell was quoted:
I asked the mayor if all this government activism had gotten the attention of the Tea Party. “Well yes, there’s been some pushback,” he said. “The Tea Party folks think the price tag has been too high, but they’re a minority.”
2012 may give a handy measure of Townsell's assessment. I wrote Jamie Gates to inquire whether a photo existed of this gathering to accompany this item. Alas, no, but he made several points, which I've edited below:
1) No federal money for the industrial park. But we did talk about the merits of targeted federal funding.
2) Alcohol talk actually made up a really small part of the conversation.
3) My remarks on DC (DJ's vs. Musicians) were in the context of DC's biggest frustration to me is that it was boring and had no interest in problem solving. I said that my most conservative ideas involved giving cities and states more authority and resources to solve their own problems. (a la CDBG)
4) We generally lamented the demise of "Third Way" DLC style solutions. Talked about the merits of pragmatism, consensus building. Primarily in the context of local govt.
5) I told him that my work with Sen. Pryor and his staff on our recent airport endeavors was a great example of an elected official doing good work for his constituents and the federal government.
6) I never said I was planning on voting for Mitt Romney. He started the conversation asking which Republican presidential candidates we could imagine as president.
7) A good time was had by all.
Back to me. I presume beer helped.