Columns » John Brummett

Bland competence Beebe’s burden

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The best or worst thing about Mike Beebe is that even lawyers couldn't think of a way to make fun of him.

There's this biennial show, a spoof called the “Gridiron,” put on by the Pulaski County Bar Association. It can be downright edgy, if not mean.

One year characters portraying Gary Hart and Bill Clinton performed that duet by Julio Iglesias and Willie Nelson, the ode to all the girls they'd loved before. This was after Hart's philandering got into the public domain, but well before Clinton's did.

So they had their four-night run a couple of weeks ago. Some of the spoofs were fairly rich.
You had a big-boned old girl portraying Janet Huckabee and doing some kind of martial-arts mating dance with an indifferent Chuck Norris. You had Cindy McCain as a mannequin and Bill Clinton hitting on it. You had Bill and Mike Huckabee realizing they were the same. You had Hillary Clinton filled with pathos and burdened with no rhythm, when, all of a sudden, a hired professional dancer came on stage beaming and strutting and doing hand-springs as Barack Obama.
You had this character portraying Ginger Beebe who held the show together. The theme was that our new first lady had introduced a more citizen-friendly nature to the Governor's Mansion, opening it up to any and all, even for — and this really happened — a hideous local celebrity dance contest.

Several of the skits had to do with characters showing up to compete in this dance contest. You had Lu Hardin finding $300,000 in secret public money to hand out in prizes for this dance contest. You get the idea.

Mike Beebe was not portrayed at all, except, they pointed out to me afterward, as that poofy-haired and grinning dude who walked through cluelessly a time or two while the Ginger Beebe character was ring-mastering.

That is to say that, after more than two decades with the walking real-life caricatures of Clinton and Huckabee, we find ourselves with a governor so nondescript as to defy spoofing even by imaginative and mean-spirited lawyers — except, that is, in regard to the apparent fact that, yes, he does seem to devote quite a bit of time and attention to the delicate styling of his precipitously parted and high-rising coiffure.

What this reflects, you see, is the essence of Beebe. What he is about is reasonable, practical moderation, and, thus, unremarkable competence.

What I'm getting to, clumsily, is Beebe's appointment last week to a vacancy on the Arkansas Supreme Court.

Blessed with such an opportunity, a governor might have availed himself to appoint a lifelong lawyer buddy, someone wanting to top off the life story with the honor and semi-retirement of service on the Supreme Court. Or a governor might reward a confirmed politico and valuable benefactor. Clinton put Webb Hubbell on the high court. Huckabee tabbed Betty Dickey.

But here's what Beebe did. He sent for that smart 46-year-old woman who'd worked for him when he was attorney general.

Insiders have long known about Elana Wills. For five attorneys general, she has led the opinions section. That means she has either prepared or overseen the attorney general's opinions on all those vexing legal questions that come up.
Everyone who has worked for or with her has extolled her expertise, her scholarly and detached credibility, no matter the tricky politics of the opinion request or the political complications besetting the elected attorney general.
She's the kind of person who, owing to quiet and consistent competence in legal research and interpretation, would seem perfect as a a criminally under-appreciated chief law clerk for some tired old Supreme Court justice needing to take the afternoon for golf or a nap.

But Beebe just handed her the robe outright.

He seems to have this thing for a nondescript style absorbed in competence. What it gains us in good governing is offset by impaired satire.

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