Columns » John Brummett

Asa's September snafus

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Asa Hutchinson’s September has been about like that Alabama kicker’s a week ago. Wide right. Wide right. Wide right.

The month started as Hutchinson snookered himself into three low-profile regional debates with Mike Beebe. He made a compact with his adversary by which he couldn’t accept or demand more debates, which is a tactical and rhetorical staple of those running behind, as he is.

Then his latest blunder, unfolding last week, was comical. Asa tried to stir up some stuff on Beebe and wound up getting it all over himself.

Hutchinson called a news conference to say he was for open government and that Beebe ought to release his answers to special interest questionnaires.

Asked if he would release his own answers, Hutchinson said that well, yes, he would, but only in some kind of coordinated release with Beebe.

So, Asa’s devotion to open government was, it turned out, conditional. He would be open with the voters only if his opponent was open with the voters, too. He did not intend to engage in any unilateral accountability, for goodness sakes.

So, reporters ran all this by Beebe’s press secretary, who was overhead to call it “lame.”

Beebe’s press secretary said that he’d gladly release Beebe’s answers to anyone who wanted them. A little later, Beebe’s campaign sent electronic copies of its questionnaires and answers to two news organizations, one of which got them posted on its website by closing time.

Asa’s campaign was saying it would send over its questionnaires and answers, too, but that not all of them had been scanned. Asa got his electronic data submitted the next day.

So, to recap: In early afternoon, Asa challenged Beebe to release his special interest questionnaires and answers, and vowed that he’d be accountable himself, but only if Beebe would lead the way. By nightfall, Beebe had led the way and Asa was fumbling around with both hands in a failed attempt to locate his back side.

You can find all this Q-and-A business on the Internet, though it’s boring. Candid-ates with brains — meaning both of these, despite Asa’s occasional behavior to the contrary — tend to give safe and sterilized written answers on such forms.

Take the National Rifle Association’s questionnaire, for example. It’s a multiple-choice checklist. All a candidate for office in Arkansas needs to do is locate the option by which any kind of weapon would be legal under any circumstance, and check that one. He might draw a little asterisk and say, “This is the best choice, though it’s not good enough, since I am not sure it would allow Arkansawyers to protect their life and property by possessing shoulder-mounted surface-to-air missiles.”

Let me tell what this was all about: Asa was calculating that Beebe might resist this release, perhaps by saying the questionnaires were the property of the organizations, in which case he would deride Beebe for not being open. Or, he was thinking that if he got a look at Beebe’s answers, he might find something by which to accuse him of pandering or telling one group one thing and another group a different thing.

At this writing, all Asa’s people had come up with was that Beebe hadn’t even responded to questionnaires from a couple of anti-abortion Republican hit groups and that Beebe didn’t appear to have submitted a questionnaire to the AFL-CIO, though he got the labor endorsement.

That’s not much. Yes, Beebe probably should have sent some perfunctory answers to the attack groups. And the AFL-CIO says Beebe responded to its questions verbally in an interview. That was smart on Beebe’s part, if you’ll permit me to speak in terms of raw political calculation. If you’re going to say something friendly to unions right now in Arkansas, it’s probably best not to do it in writing.

If there was a tape recorder in the room, Asa may be on to something.

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