If the Democratic Party of Arkansas has a future, it is in people like Clarke Tucker, the Democratic nominee to succeed term-limited John Edwards in representing House District 35 — the Heights and northwestern Little Rock.
Tucker is a corporate lawyer with brains and personality. He's been chosen a leader every place he schooled: Central High School, Harvard, the University of Arkansas Law School. He's also stuck to the high road against a malicious campaign by Republican opponent Stacy Hurst.
Sunday in North Little Rock, appearing with Bill Clinton, Tucker said: "We can send a message in Arkansas this year that politics can still be noble, that we embrace hope over fear, and that we believe not only in the greatness of our people, but also in their inherent goodness."
These are mature words. A measure of his strength is the inability of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, amid its usual parade of Republican editorial rubberstamps, to come up with anything against Tucker except patronizing comments about his youth. (He's 33, not exactly a kid.)
Stacy Hurst has been a city director for 12 years, but known more for putting her finger to the wind than leadership. She did vote for her campaign contributors against multiple neighborhoods fighting a damaging gas station. Often she vacillates, such as when she backed away from a commitment on something as small as window replacements for the Woman's City Club.
She rarely does press interviews, a tacit admission of her limited skills. Her flawed judgment showed early when she bragged about using the discredited Republican senator Gilbert Baker as a financial bagman. His work for her included a dole from the smelly PACs Baker orchestrated to stuff with Michael Morton nursing home money.
Hurst insists she's a moderate. Who knows? She didn't know her political party until a Republican tycoon instructed her in the path to his money. Her cautious city board record doesn't promise a fighter against the regressive Arkansas GOP. She's more likely to be regressive herself.
Has anybody done anything lower than Hurst did in trying to make a campaign issue out of where Clarke Tucker's 4-year-old enrolled in nursery school? Clarke Tucker's son didn't make the cut for the Little Rock pre-K his parents sought. Thanks to Freedom of Information Act requests and reporting by Blue Hog Report, we learned how the Hurst campaign tried to make something out of this nothing. A Hurst supporter, School Board member Leslie Fisken, was communicating with school district officials. School employees lied or bungled. The Tucker child was treated unfairly. And Stacy Hurst and her pals schemed to turn it to her advantage.
Then came an anonymous mailer that Hurst disavowed connection with, though it concerned an issue her campaign had promised to raise weeks before and she'd soon be working the issue herself. Tucker once did his mother a favor. He provided pro bono legal assistance to the brother of a woman Tucker's mother had been helping. With agreement of the prosecutor and judge, the man got probation.
Providing legal counsel makes Tucker soft on crime in the eyes of Stacy Hurst. The Republican Party put out a Willie Horton-style mailer that misrepresented the facts of the case (the young man was acquitted on a subsequent charge filed after the plea bargain) and parroted Hurst's new tough-on-crime posture. (Where had the crime fighter been for 12 years on the City Board?)
It is reprehensible to fault a lawyer for providing constitutionally guaranteed legal counsel. Tucker says calmly that he's confident voters "are smart enough to understand that good lawyers at times take pro bono criminal cases in their careers, and that does not make the lawyers responsible for the sins of their clients."
Such smart voters surely will prefer the hope Clarke Tucker offers over what Stacy Hurst is selling.