Columns » John Brummett

Blanche’s last opponent


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Let us stipulate that Stanley Reed is looking around for some new opportunities and challenges.

The farmer and lawyer from Marianna is 57. He just ended a long stint as president of the powerful Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation. Last March his 10-year term ended as chairman of the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees. His son handles most of the farm supervision.

He finds himself with good health, sound mind, plenty of energy and time on his hands. A man that age doesn't want to think the arc of his life has topped out and encountered gravity.

You don't get much more prominent in Arkansas than, at the same time, heading the Farm Bureau and doing a term as chairman of the board of the University of Arkansas system. After such a thing, you can run the risk of living an anticlimax.

So it came to be that the blogosphere spread rumors last week that Reed was thinking about signing up as the Republican challenger in two years to the re-election of U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln.

It's an old-media tradition to call a guy and ask him about such a thing. He didn't return my call Friday to his cell phone. So I tried again Monday morning, around 9:30. He answered. He said he was knee-deep in water in the duck woods and that he and his boy had killed three or four.

And here's his money quote: “I can't see how I would ever run against Blanche. I could not see myself running against her, as good as she's been to the agriculture community. She's probably the last person I'd run against. I don't know how this stuff gets started.”

I do. A prominent man is looking at options. Somebody observes him looking at options. Somebody mentions U.S. Senate. He gets overheard saying, well, you never say never. There you go.

Indeed he told me that one should never say never about anything. I said that the  money quote — that Blanche was probably the last person he'd run against considering his support of farmers — would work against him if he now turned around and ran against her. He said that was surely true and that he wasn't taking it back.

Reed told me he wasn't even sure he was a Republican. What he is is a typical East Arkansas farmer. He's culturally conservative. He's economically conservative except on farm subsidies. He favors Democrats like Mike Beebe. He prefers Republicans on national issues, except subsidies.

Here are two other options for him, in steeply descending order of likelihood.

The first is that Reed remains widely talked about as the successor for the soon-to-retire Alan Sugg as president of the University of Arkansas system. In fact, Sugg got up at a public event a few months ago and all but endorsed Reed. That was when Lu Hardin was extracting a bonus and deferred compensation out of the UCA board on the implicit prospect that he might get Sugg's job.

Reed has no background in higher education administration. He relies only on the experience on the board. But this is not so much an academic job as a political one. And he made clear to me Monday that, yes, the position interests him if his old pals on the board should see fit to consider him for it.

The other option, far less likely, is this: There are reports out of Washington that Lincoln has been working closely with the Obama transition on agriculture issues and sometimes gets considered for secretary of agriculture. That would create a two-year vacancy subject to appointment by Reed's pal Beebe. It also would throw the race in 2010 wide open.

I'm advised, though, that Blanche is flattered, but more interested in her increasingly prominent Senate service.



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