by Max Brantley
Former Congressman Mike Ross began his campaign for governor with an announcement in his hometown of Prescott this morning. He'll be making multiple stops, ending with a 5:45 p.m. event at the state Capitol in hopes of capturing some TV evening news time.
Ross joins former Lt. Gov. Bill Halter in the Democratic race. He'll position himself as a Mike Beebe-style moderate. He'll be armed with polling showing him a far stronger candidate against leading Republican contender Asa Hutchinson than Halter. He'll also soon post fund-raising numbers far exceeding what Halter has been able to raise (a paltry amount in-state in his first report).
You'll notice Ross' remarks aimed at the Democratic primary voter, particularly with his sharp remarks on the current Republican legislature's war on women. He'll cite his own support for the federal equal pay act for women, something Asa Hutchinson didn't support, and his support for expansion of the ARKids program to insure children of working poor. Note this passage:
Over the past few months, some misguided politicians have taken over the state legislature and have made divisive issues of the past their top priority — instead of working to create jobs, improve education and strengthen the economy.
Here lately, it seems the only time Arkansas makes national news is when these divisive politicians succeed at pushing through their attacks on women and families. Attacks like these only serve to erase the progress Arkansas has made and they detract from our focus on the future.
So, my message to those that try to divide us and take us backward: your attacks on women and families will not work. And, your divisive politics, all too familiar in Washington — do not belong here in Arkansas.
He's citing his Democratic organizational roots at the local and national level. He'll promise to apply that experience to a coordinated campaign to elect Democratic legislators to join him in governance. I think he believes — and I don't disagree — that 2014 is THE watershed year in Arkansas politics. Democrats will build a firebreak or we'll become Oklahoma and Alabama for the rest of his and my lives.
I've had my quarrels with Ross' politics, which he'd certainly argue only recognized the deeply conservative nature of the 4th Congressional District. In recent private meetings, he's demonstrated a clear willingness to take a statewide view, such as by saying he'd have joined Mike Beebe in vetoing unconstitutional abortion restrictions and the vote-suppressing aims of the Republican Voter ID bill. He'll defend his resistance to the final form of Obamacare in dozens of town hall meetings in 2010 in which he tried — unsuccessfully — to explain the legislation to constituents as something less than the communist peril. He'll also be punished by Republicans if he's the nominee for casting an important vote in committee to get the legislation to the floor. If the Republican-flavor of Obamacare is adopted in Arkansas, however, I predict it won't be long before the scales fall from many eyes on the benefits of the legislation. Maybe in time for November 2014.
PS — Halter today announced endorsements from retired Pulaski Circuit Judge Marion Humphrey and former Garland County Treasurer Jo West Taylor. Halter said he welcomed Ross to the race and looked forward to a vigorous debate (punctuated by lots of ugly robocalling in Halter's aid by unidenitfied mystery groups.)