Columns » John Brummett

Can they handle Kim’s math?

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Live on-site Twitter posters proclaimed last week that the only announced Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate was getting eaten alive at a meeting of the Pulaski County Republican Committee.

State Sen. Kim Hendren, that reported victim, told me days later that what he experienced was merely a “very lively discussion, at least with a few of the people there” and “good for the Republican Party.”

One of those tweeters that night, state Rep. Mark Martin of Prairie Grove, has never agreed with him on a few basic issues, Hendren said.

Indeed, Martin is an extreme conservative. Hendren is not as zealously consistent in his extreme conservatism. He's liable to go along with the occasional tax increase or propose that government plop helmets on motorcyclists.

For his part, Martin tells me the discussion was “cordial, but turned agitated” only when Hendren tried to explain some of his “pragmatic” votes by espousing principles that sounded — to Martin, anyway — more liberal than conservative. It's one thing to cast a compromise vote for a tax, Martin told me. But he said he'd prefer that a Republican lament such a vote rather than sound practically proud of it on ideological grounds.

Still, Martin said he didn't necessarily long for another Republican candidate for the Senate. That remains to be seen, he said.

Here's what this comes down to:

For all his gruff and conservative style and manner and rhetoric, and for all his genuine conservatism on social issues, Hendren is entirely reasonable, pragmatic and moderate on a couple of things, primarily taxation.

Hendren is hardly discernible on taxes at the state level from, say, a centrist Democrat like Mike Beebe.

And modern-day Republicans, with their tea parties and such, are simply not going to put up with that.

It happened that Hendren, who punctuates his common-sense style with a stubborn manner, stood his ground typically and firmly.

He told me the cigarette tax was nothing more than a manifestation of the fine conservative ideal of having people take personal responsibility to pay their own way. Raising the tax 55 cents a pack was but a down payment, Hendren said, on what the diseases resulting from cigarette smoking actually cost us.

Hendren refuses to sign the document that practically all Republican political candidates feel obliged to sign, which is a pledge not to raise taxes.

He tells the anti-tax crowd that it might get somewhere if it would sign a no-spending pledge to go with the no-tax one. More to the point, Hendren says he sometimes asks those demanding that he sign a no-tax pledge if they drive on the highways. If so, he wonders how they expect to be transported if there are no taxes to build and maintain roads.

That kind of talk has people wondering if state Sen. Gilbert Baker of Conway might still get in this race to seek to represent the obstructionist no-tax wing of the obstructionist no-tax party.

Baker made the no-tax pledge in a tough re-election campaign last year. Then Beebe and the state health care establishment leaned on him this year on the cigarette tax. I thought I caught Baker wavering on that after a meeting in Beebe's office, but, in the end, his vote was not needed and he could get away with a safe “no.”

Later, as chairman of the Joint Budget Committee, Baker steered $10 million in surplus funds to construction of a new interchange in Conway.

It's clear, then, that Baker is better than Hendren at modern conservative math. You know that formula: Don't tax but do spend. Cut the income and jack up the outgo. Reduce your receivables and raise your payables.

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