Columns » Max Brantley

Already missing D-Mac

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The 2014 race for attorney general makes me appreciate the current officeholder, Dustin McDaniel.

Three Republicans — Patricia Nation, David Sterling and Leslie Rutledge — are in a dead heat race to the right-wing fringe.

They all show disdain for the federal government. It is a burden to Arkansas, all say, though they don't explain how a federal government that sends more money back to Arkansas than it collects here is a burden.

Like the rest of the Republican majority in the legislature, they see no need to obey the U.S. Constitution. All support the unconstitutional legislation to make abortion harder to obtain in Arkansas. They recognize no room in the Constitution — though court precedent and law always have — for regulation of firearms.

And then they get really wacky. All support capital punishment and evince no concerns about the cost, discriminatory application or execution of innocents that complicate the issue. Sterling "distinguishes" himself further by wanting to give state prison officials an exemption from the Freedom of Information Act so they can keep secret how they obtain dubious drugs for lethal injections. Meanwhile, he'd like to return the electric chair to service.

Sterling also is the beneficiary of a huge TV campaign by a secretive political organization, the American Future Fund, which is running thinly disguised pro-Sterling ads in the form of "educational" spots about his support for a Stand Your Ground law. Sterling claims no coordination. You have to wonder how these shadowy right-wingers learned of his advocacy of such legislation. A Stand Your Ground law is a ready alibi for "justifiable homicide." When someone is gunned down for allegedly threatening a person who happens to have a gun, it's hard to prove ill intent when the only other witness is dead.

But back to Dustin McDaniel. He's not perfect. A personal dalliance forced him out of a planned race for governor. But he says Arkansas should come to grips with the reality that resumption of a sustainable death penalty is a long way off, if ever. McDaniel also warned the legislature about the unconstitutionality of the abortion laws it passed over Gov. Mike Beebe's veto. A Republican federal judge agreed in short order.

McDaniel chose the twilight of his term to declare that he now personally supports same-sex marriage (though he'll defend marriage discrimination in court as state law). He supported civil unions when he ran for attorney general, a bridge few politicians would cross at the time. He was among a handful of politicians who opposed the hateful effort by the Religious Right to make it illegal for gay couples to adopt or be foster parents.

Now he's fully evolved. He's running with a rising tide on gay rights, but it's no safe position for an Arkansas politician yet. Recent polling shows a majority of Arkansans under 30 support same-sex marriage. The elderly — people like Gov. Mike Beebe — remain opposed. They won't be around forever, but they still have years of voting left.

McDaniel has left me exasperated more than once, but he demonstrates a heart now and then. It's better than you can say for the Republican candidates. They hate helping the working poor get insurance (Obamacare). McDaniel has stuck his head out on that issue from the beginning.

McDaniel is putting his political skills (including raising money) to work for state Rep. Nate Steel, the Democratic candidate for attorney general. Steel is, sigh, an open carry advocate. The best he can do on the death penalty is say he'd work to pass a constitutional law. I hope his mentoring from McDaniel has included tutelage that this is a safe thing to say for now, if all but impossible to achieve.

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