Columns » Max Brantley

Dilemmas

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Early voting opens at 8 a.m. Monday, May 3. Among the quandaries remaining on the Democratic side of the ballot:

The Democratic primary race for 2nd Congressional District. Retiring Rep. Vic Snyder will be hard to replace. But there's a rich Democratic candidate pool, progressive almost to a fault (the possible fault being House Speaker Robbie Wills). Snyder's former staff chief, David Boling, lawyer John Adams (who happens to be a friend of my daughter) and Patrick Kennedy, a former Clinton School employee, lack name recognition, but not brains or energy. They are reminiscent of the unknown Arkansas law professor who rose to prominence in a 1974 congressional race. There's one more candidate with name recognition, Sen. Joyce Elliott, a friend of unions, immigrants and sexual minorities, to name just a few unpopular causes she's fearlessly championed. She happens to be black, with a stirring personal biography. Can a black liberal win a district that defeated Barack Obama in 2008 and which has a small black voting base outside Pulaski County?

The race for state Supreme Court between Judge Courtney Henry and Judge John Fogleman. Fogleman enjoys broader support from attorneys, including prominent lawyers from Henry's Fayetteville hometown, for the simple reason that she lacks necessary experience, her year on the Court of Appeals notwithstanding. Her outpouring of nursing home financial support isn't reassuring, either. Fogleman is nearly universally applauded as a trial judge. But his resume bears a stain as a prosecutor in the West Memphis Three case 17 years ago. Appeal court affirmation of those murder convictions — particularly given discoveries in years since — doesn't whitewash the prosecutorial overreaches, particularly the dubious testimony by a bogus expert in Satanism that helped leverage a thin, circumstantial case into a death sentence. It would help if Fogleman would concede, given the subsequent revelations, an understanding of the skepticism about the trial (the death jury's improper consideration of an inadmissible confession is another outrage). A consideration in this race, too, is the lack of a woman on the seven-member Supreme Court. It shouldn't be corrected in another Supreme Court race where Judge Tim Fox is the clear choice over Judge Karen Baker, whose forces have been working quietly behind the scenes to whip up religious-based fervor against some of Fox's principled rulings. But Henry's avowed admiration for Chief Justice John Roberts' “philosophy” is no comfort for feminists.

The race for U.S. Senate. Liberals sneer at incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln for her billionaire-friendly legislating, but she has modestly progressive scores on most broad indexes of voting records. She could have killed health insurance reform legislation but didn't. Her chief opponent, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, has won labor support because Lincoln deserted unions, but he's avoided declarations on some of the big issues. You sense that he'd be more progressive, but can you be sure? He's also hard to warm up to personally. Finally, his singular achievement — the state lottery — is a disincentive. The state is already backsliding on its commitment to higher education with the knowledge that lottery money (read poorer voters' ticket purchases) will pick up the slack. One consideration is the possibility that Lincoln would be the strongest challenger, on account of her perceived centrism, to the likely Republican nominee, a baggage-laden U.S. Rep. John Boozman.

I'm leaning toward Adams and Fogleman. Halter-Lincoln? I may need a coin.

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