Columns » Max Brantley

Comings and going

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Newsmakers came and went in headlines last week.

• Former Gov. Mike Huckabee, under apparent pressure from Fox News to stop using his weekly talk show as a platform for a presidential run, announced that he would not be running.

Huckabee didn't help himself with a generally friendly national press — or with many of his devoted followers — by hyping the TV show stunt to retire from the fray.

It was a rational decision. He has $3 million or more in debt from a splurge of acquisitions as a newly rich media star. He had a good shot, but not a sure thing, at winning the Republican nomination. His odds on winning the presidency were longer, if not impossible. Meanwhile, no income.

Huckabee simply had neither the passion to run nor the checkbook. He didn't go out graciously. He immodestly touted his superiority; he set up a straw man or two (his family would have been savaged, he said; Huck's knows something about savaging others); he apparently didn't get the call from God.

The question now for Huckster watchers is whether a former candidate continues to enjoy an upward trajectory in media attention and riches? Or has he topped out? Time and the size of his future mansions will tell.

Finally: The Republican field is pitifully weak, so weak that Huckabee WAS a standout. I still wouldn't rule out a draft of Huckabee. The religious conservatives who adore him have the ability to generate noise and an instant base. And they do believe in miracles.

• The Little Rock School Board exhibited rare unanimity in voting 7-0 to offer interim School Superintendent Morris Holmes the full-time job through 2012-13. This was no unity moment. It signaled an irresolvable split on other candidates. Holmes, a veteran of the district, is well-liked. He can balance the budget, something he even accomplished in the difficult New Orleans School District. But: Is a 71-year-old administrator coming out of retirement the obvious candidate to change the status quo? Is a long-time Little Rock educator the person to ruthlessly pare administrative deadwood and underperforming principals? Is a product of this system likely to aggressively implement a new strategic plan and perhaps upend a teacher pay scale whose low beginning pay is a disincentive to bright, young graduates? Has he demonstrated an ability to deliver startling departures from the expected outcomes in overwhelmingly poor and minority urban school districts? Nice as it was to see the School Board in agreement for once, don't take his selection as a full-throated YES to all these questions.

 • Circuit Judge Mary Ann Gunn of Fayetteville will resign next month. She's not a household name, but she merits public attention because of her long effort to make herself a TV star as the hammy magistrate of a televised drug court. It was highly popular in the Fayetteville area on local cable until the nonprofit producing it pulled the plug because of a judicial ethics committee's scorching criticism of the project. Gunn has nonetheless continued to pursue the idea. A West Coast production company promises a TV show for fall release. Where will she get the "stars" of her show if she's no longer a judge and other judges aren't comfortable referring defendants to TV exploitation? There's evidence she's been working with the Department of Community Corrections on a plan to "treat" drug offenders with her made-for-TV court, perhaps using public facilities. If this is Gov. Beebe's idea of prison reform — outsourcing drug defendants to commercial reality TV — it's a bad idea. If it's not HIS idea, he should put a stop to it before it starts.

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