Few people watch these gubernatorial debates, and, anyway, George W. Bush demonstrated that you needn’t be able to talk or reason to win elections.
That’s good news for Asa Hutchinson. He lost that second gubernatorial debate to Mike Beebe, pretty much big time.
Hutchinson lost not by a gaffe or on style. In fact, I preferred Hutchinson's natural look to whatever it was that Beebe had let his people do to his hair. I found Beebe’s religious witnessing off-putting, but that's just me.
Asa lost because he’s wrong and Beebe is right.
Hutchinson wasted no time Wednesday in Fayetteville. He pounced from the start on his demagogic theme of the week.
That’s the television commercial in which he sits on the school bus and says Beebe caused three-hour rides for children, but that he will shorten those hauls by saving rural schools. He charged that Beebe didn’t use common sense as attorney general to find a way to keep that tiny Paron High School open.
Beebe replied correctly that:
—This three-hour ride business was exaggerated for most of the Paron kids.
—It was not state government, but the school board of the Bryant School District, of which the Paron school was but a unit, that voted to close the school because it did not teach all the required courses or contain a sufficient number of students to teach all the required courses with cost efficiency.
—We’ve had enough consolidation.
—The state will not dare retreat on the imposition of strict and lofty school standards and cut slack to anybody — urban, rural or in between — if he's governor.
Hutchinson’s education policy is based on the unique circumstances of one little village in remote Saline County. Beebe’s has to do with equal and adequate educational opportunities statewide. So, here’s what we ought to do: Let’s make Hutchinson mayor of Paron. Let’s make Beebe governor of the state.
Moving to the other big issue: Not so very long ago, Hutchinson didn’t want to repeal the sales tax on groceries at all, but now, to atone and pander, he wants to do so instantly and fully. Beebe, who brought up phasing out the grocery tax in the first place, says that while we should do it, we should not necessarily do it all at once.
Beebe says we still face hundreds of millions of dollars in court-ordered school facility improvements. He says college tuition is too high and that the federal government is always threatening to cut Medicaid. He says the surplus is a one-time accumulation resulting from factors that may not recur. He says we should take the sales tax on groceries down incrementally and systematically in proportion to real revenue growth.
Asa had the best line of the debate ... for about 120 seconds.
He responded to that responsible litany by Beebe by saying everyone had just heard why we’d never get the sales tax off food in a Beebe governorship.
But Beebe came right back and trumped him. He said one should “under-promise and over-deliver” and that the people will remember if, like Asa, you do the opposite.
There’s a lot in Beebe as a gubernatorial candidate that, as one who’s known him reasonably well for more than two decades, I don’t readily recognize. There’s the work-shirted old boy, the hunter, that slicked-up Wednesday night hairdo.
But insisting forcefully and with strong command of facts that one must be responsible in what one promises, even at the risk of taking the harder and less popular position, even when the other guy has cynically appropriated your idea — that’s the Beebe I often saw leading the state Legislature. It’s the one you can easily envision as governor.
Make no mistake: The sales tax on human food needs to go. Let us celebrate that both candidates for governor are avowed to do something about it.
But Beebe makes braver and more practical and responsible sense. And making braver and more practical and responsible sense wins debates. In this case, it may actually win the election, too.