Columns » Bob McCord

Dinner with the GOP

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For 30 years Mike Beebe has been elected either a state senator or an attorney general without a single opponent. But this time, in his effort to become the governor of Arkansas, he will have to work very, very hard to get elected. He not only has a well-known competitor but someone helping him who is a real campaigner, the very popular Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Last week the governor brought Mitt Romney, the governor of Massachusetts, to Little Rock to speak to a dinner of 600 Arkansas Republicans who paid $125 a seat to hear Asa Hutchinson, the man who wants to become Arkansas’s 45th governor on Nov. 7. They gave him something like $70,000 to spend to try to win.

Romney is an interesting fellow. He’s a Republican governor in a state whose legislature is filled 85 percent with Democrats. He’s 59 and a devoted Mormon, which he became while he went to Brigham Young University. He transferred to law school at Harvard at the same time President Bush was there in business school. In 1994 he was chosen the Republican candidate in Massachusetts against Sen. Edward Kennedy, who was somewhat amazed when Romney managed to get 41 percent of the votes. In 2002, Romney decided to run for governor, spending more than $6 million of his money to get elected and was greatly helped by the Bush White House.

Romney would like to be president, and he is one of a dozen or so who are being thought of as the Republican candidate in 2008. Of course, Governor Huckabee has the same idea, which enabled him to talk Romney into coming to draw a big crowd of Arkansas Republicans. But Romney only told funny stories and didn’t talk about Asa; he only said his name twice.

It was Huckabee who praised the candidate. He said: “We need a leader — a leader that can take us to a new level of conservative principles in this state and who has the courage and the convictions to get the job done. That is Hutchinson.”

As for Attorney General Beebe, Huckabee said: “I don’t want in any way to disparage Hutchinson’s opponent. I get along with him fine, working with him for 13 years. Because I have worked with him both as senator and attorney general I am in a unique position to tell you that the reason that I stand here tonight with enthusiasm is because I know that the style of these gentlemen could not be more different.” That got much applause.

But the effective speech of the night was Hutchinson’s. He said that as a representative in Congress, United States attorney in Arkansas and an official of Homeland Security in Washington that he was “fighting for what you believe in.”

But he said that today’s leaders of Arkansas aren’t doing that. “This last week we saw the Arkansas Supreme Court... overturn a state restriction banning gay couples as foster parents. To me, this defies common sense. I believe it was a bad decision and it ought to be corrected.”

By the way, that decision was approved by all seven members of the state Supreme Court.

Hutchinson said the Democrats have a record of tax and spend. “And yes they talk about Arkansas values, but we see that they get their money from Barbra Streisand, Ted Danson and the liberal Hollywood crowd. There’s nothing wrong with taking from Hollywood; I’ll match my money any day. I have campaign contributions from Connie Stevens and Pat Boone, people a little bit more on the conservative side.”

Hutchinson said if he were elected governor, he would reduce taxes and end the grocery tax. “My opponent says he has been a long-time supporter of repealing the grocery tax. He served 20 years in the Arkansas Senate and never sponsored a repeal of the grocery tax.”

The surplus of state taxes revealed last week caused him to say, “Let me tell you that if I am elected governor I will reduce taxes in Arkansas. We can grow our economy and not grow government.”

Hutchinson uses his words so well that his audience paid serious attention. He got long applause at least nine times, not counting the long, standing ovation at the end. This surprised me. So did the number of young people in the audience taking in every word. Journalists used to think that most young people were Democrats, but I’m beginning to think we are wrong. That three-hour banquet convinced me that Mike Beebe and the Democrats are going to have to work very, very hard to beat Hutchinson.

Between the speeches of Huckabee and Hutchinson, the 600 listeners know everything that happened in the candidate’s life except for one thing that was never mentioned. While in Congress in 1998, Hutchinson led the effort to persuade the House of Representatives to impeach Bill Clinton. Had the Senate convicted him, it would have hurt the country and put an awful shroud around Arkansas.

I wonder if Hutchinson a couple of weeks ago saw the Wall Street Journal’s survey of the most admired United States presidents. The 3,680 people who were questioned put Bill Clinton in fifth place, just below Franklin Roosevelt and just above Thomas Jefferson and Harry Truman.

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