by Max Brantley
While Arkansas Republicans are busily trying to brand Democrats as a bunch of liberals to counteract the growing lunatic fringe element in the GOP ranks, Democrats are busy self-identifying themselves as members of the corporate party.
Neither Gov. Mike Beebe nor Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, running for governor in 2014, could summon much obvious enthusiasm for the initiative drive to strengthen Arkansas ethics law, a belated and tepid me-too being about the best they could muster. (That, at least, was a small step better than the Republican leaders who were outspoken in opposition to cleaner government.)
Medical marijuana? There'll be no avenue for palliative care for sick people from these two putative "liberals" (Republican label, not mine). McDaniel, particularly, has made fighting the drug scourge a signature issue since legislative days. Thank him and his ilk for making it harder to buy over-the-counter cold medicine, a law that might have created some problems for small meth cookers but undoubtedly hastened the import of mass-produced quantities of higher quality, cheaper meth from Mexico.
Progressive taxation, mostly paid by people in other states, to pay for road damage? Mike Beebe and Dustin McDaniel don't favor that either. The gas severance tax increase will have to get by on Sheffield Nelson's dogged one-man common sense campaign. McDaniel, who yesterday said he might have to spend $12 million running for office in 2014, has no doubt seen the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce anti-gas-tax campaign reports that show $1.5 million was spent simply trying to discourage people from signing the gas tax petitions. Once on the ballot, you can multiply that amount probably three or four-fold. (McDaniel, naturally favors taxing people's living necessities through a sales tax to raise millions to keep highway contractors employed building four-lanes of dubious worth. Gov. Beebe also says he'll vote for this sales tax.)
Which brings me to the capper:
A somewhat unusual voice joined progressive forces this morning, the editorial page of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which observed in an editorial praising the failed ethics effort and castigating some half-cocked casino proposals:
The attempt to get natural-gas companies to pay a fairer share of the damage their newly intensified production has done to the state’s roads could also be considered an ethical imperative. Shale oil and gas has been a great boon, but it is also a great challenge.
The good news is that an initiated act to raise the severance tax on natural gas to a uniform 7 percent might make it onto the ballot—thanks to the herculean efforts of Sheffield Nelson, who made his fortune in natural gas and now has made this proposal his personal crusade. He’s about to get it on the ballot thanks to a little help from his many friends and a lot from the Arkansas Municipal League, which understands the damage all those rigs do to a state’s road network, including city streets and county roads.
Newspaper editorials don't win or lose many elections. But supporting fire can't hurt.