Several Democrats called my attention to a debate last week before the Northeast Arkansas Political Animals in Jonesboro between Nate Looney, a Democrat challenging incumbent Republican Brandt Smith for a seat in the state House of Representatives.
Jason Willett, a Democratic political consultant, observes on Facebook that the debate sharply illustrated divergent political outlooks. I'll say. Among the highlights from the Q&A session, with key comments beginning at roughly the 20-minute mark:
* Looney emphasized the need to expand pre-K education, an initiative the Republican Party has stripped from its party platform.
* Smith said the spending is a waste of money. Looney just spouts "typical Democrat rhetoric," he said. "Let's throw more money at programs."
* Looney countered that pre-K education helps poor children particularly and can guide them away from future lives of crime. He noted, too, that pre-K provides a safe and valuable place for children of working parents who can't afford to stay home with children. Looney said studies, including at the University of Chicago, had shown a correlation between early education and reduced crime rates.
* Smith said you couldn't trust research from Chicago, a Democratic stronghold and a violent place. "I place little trust of research that come out of a democratic stronghold where cities are imploding." Really. (Never mind that the University of Chicago is one of the finest in the country, with an economics department notable for its conservative thinkers.)
* Smith said kids should stay at home with families rather than being packed off to school.
Smith said educators, from grade school to college, always want more money. "They show up with hands open and they want more money every time. We need to be spending our money more wisely."
Political campaign money came up, too. Looney said he wouldn't accept PAC money. Smith does, but he said he'd never be influenced by it. He says he reports his money, plus everybody knows he's a conservative Republican. He'll vote for Donald Trump, he said. He notes, too, that Looney once helped start a PAC to encourage new leaders.
Looney said, however, that his PAC didn't take corporate money. Much PAC financing is akin to a money laundering scheme, he said, and he's right.
The fake ethics amendment that ended corporate campaign contributions to candidates didn't end corporate contributions to PACs. PAC money (and political party committee money) steps in handily for candidates like Smith, particularly incumbents. His campaign reports are an illustration of the emptiness of the notion that the "ethics" amendment accomplished much. If it weren't for money from PACs — nursing homes, dentists, real estate, politician PACs like those run by Asa Hutchinson and Tim Griffin, and other Republican leadership PACs, among others — Smith would have little money at all. And those PACs that contributed to him would have had little money to give out but for special interest money and corporate money (the Asa PAC is larded with corporate money from all over the country, tobacco money on down).
Looney said he'd introduce legislation to end the corporate loophole on campaign finance.
If you've time, watch the video. You'll see some sharp differences on public policy issues by candidates well-prepared to debate. I've-got-mine Tea Party politics or a helping hand for those in need that might pay future dividends. Two years ago, the former won.
Looney closed by emphasizing hope over fear. That is the theme for the year and not just in Jonesboro.