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Election 2004

Our picks and a selection of races to watch.


Early voting is gaining in popularity in Arkansas and so the Arkansas Times wanted to make its own political statements before too many ballots have been cast. (Voting began in Pulaski County Monday, Oct. 18.) This year, we make room to run all our endorsements in one place, along with articles on several races of interest. We begin with the biggest race of them all, for president of the United States. President JOHN KERRY Some elections are more important than others. Many people on both sides of the presidential race have said that this is the most important election of their lifetime. Seldom has the nation been so divided. Of all the promises that George W. Bush has broken, this may be the biggest. He promised that as president, he would be a uniter, not a divider. He would bring us together. Instead, he has waged class warfare on low- and middle-income Americans, increasing their share of the tax burden and endangering vital government services so that he could give huge tax breaks to his own kind. The gap between rich and poor in America is wider than it has ever been. Then he looks straight into the television camera and lies about who the tax cuts went to, and the corporate media, seeking favors from the administration and receiving them, allow him to get by with it. He has recklessly plunged us into what now seems an endless foreign war and spoken falsely about the causes. Those who point out his prevarications and misjudgments are accused of treason and cowardice by his followers. He has permitted war profiteers to flourish, and those who criticize the looting are told by the vice president to go f*** themselves, or, worse, to go to France. His contempt for other peoples has alienated the international community. Nations that once respected us now fear and distrust us instead. His attorney general ravishes the Constitution, supposedly in pursuit of terrorists, but loyal American citizens are denied their freedom, and their right of expression. An administration full of draft-evading "chickenhawks," including the vice president and the attorney general, disgracefully maligns men who fought and bled for their country. Real sacrifice is mocked, while a president who evaded combat prances in a flight suit. In every way, the Bush administration has been a disaster. He has transformed a $5.6 trillion projected surplus into a $5.2 trillion projected deficit. His administration will be the first since Herbert Hoover’s to show a net loss in American jobs, and those that remain are mostly low-paying service jobs. The high-paying positions go overseas, and the American corporations that send them there receive tax breaks for doing so. The cost of health care continues to soar, more and more millions of Americans go without insurance because they can’t afford it, but Bush resists any proposals that might lessen the bloated profits of drug companies and insurance companies, who contribute heavily to his campaigns. Just as the oil companies and the timber interests that also contribute to him are allowed to plunder the country’s natural resources as they see fit. He has been called the most dangerous president in American history, with his preemptive wars, his restriction of civil liberties, his willingness to merge church and state, his plans to "privatize" (dismantle) Social Security and Medicare, and it is no exaggeration. A popular political button says "Anybody but Bush." But John Kerry is more than just anybody. He is a man who has fought for his country in Vietnam and the United States Senate, and a man who can admit error when he’s wrong. Bush never does. Though born to privilege, like Bush, Kerry has avoided the greed, the arrogance, the self-centeredness that afflict Bush and many of his wealthy cronies. Kerry cares about the poor, the sick, the unemployed and uninsured, and he cares about those who are dying in Iraq, Americans and Iraqis. Their children are no less precious to them than ours are to us. He cared about the men who served under him in wartime. They have so testified. One candidate is large-hearted and far-sighted, seeing the world as it is and as it could be. The other is deficient in vision and compassion, seeing nothing and imagining nothing outside his small circle of ideologues, demagogues and corporate chiselers. The choice is clear. U.S. Senate Blanche Lincoln Though among the most conservative of Democratic senators, Senator Lincoln still qualifies as a moderate in today’s political environment. Her broad appeal is reflected by the endorsements she’s received from groups of widely varying viewpoints. She has supported the Bush administration more often than she should have — sometimes out of political expediency, we fear — but she has also stood firmly with other Democrats in resisting the president’s appointment of extremists to the federal bench. This is among the most important duties of a senator. A hard worker, she is especially sensitive to the needs of women and children. Her opponent is an undistinguished state senator and soldier of the Religious Right. U.S. House of Representatives, District 2 Vic Snyder Compassionate, courageous and honest, Representative Snyder is the shining star of the Arkansas congressional delegation. He’s a Vietnam veteran who looks out for vets, a family physician who looks out for families, and a civil libertarian who looks out for everybody. His opponent is an ultraconservative state representative who votes against taxes for the public schools, while grasping for every penny of public money he can get for himself. Arkansas Supreme Court Associate Justice, Position 4 Collins Kilgore Circuit Judge Kilgore is best known for his enlightened and earth-shaking decision that the Arkansas public school system is unconstitutionally unfair and inadequate, but he’s conscientious in all matters. Constitutional Amendment 1 For The 1992 adoption of term limits for legislators was a serious mistake. As the founders of this nation knew when they rejected term limits, voters have the right and the duty to decide who can serve and for how long. The existing term limits have deprived the legislature of leadership, increased the power of unelected bureaucrats, and opened the legislative branch to fringe types who could never win an election if better people weren’t barred from running. Amendment 1 extends the limits from three two-year terms to six two-year terms for House members, and from two four-year terms to three four-year terms for senators. Constitutional Amendment 2 Against This amendment would allow the legislature to issue general obligation bonds to help finance major economic development projects. Any bond lawyer will tell you that the measure is a disaster of bad legal writing. Nobody can say for sure which state fund will be obligated to pay off the bonds or how large the potential liability could be. But we can say for sure where the money will come from: out of the hide of the school budget and those of other state agencies. Backers of this amendment say the benefits of major industrial expansion will justify the expenditure. Our opposition is not about our general disapproval of government funding of private enterprises. It is about an utter absence of accountability. The amendment offers no mechanism to reclaim money lost to companies that don’t follow through on promises. It offers no promise of public accountability on the sums spent and the purposes for which they were spent. The best argument for this amendment is that every other state does something similar. It’s hard to believe they do it this stupidly. Constitutional Amendment 3 Against A spite amendment, it is primarily intended to prohibit same-sex marriages — in other words, to deny one class of citizens rights that are available to others. The diminution of freedom is not a proper goal for constitutional change. The whole idea of America is that people gain rights, not lose them. In addition, the proposal is so vaguely worded that it could have dire consequences for heterosexuals too. Elderly widows might lose tax benefits because of the cloudy provisions of Amendment 3. Nobody knows; it’s not a risk worth taking. Referred Question 1 For It would raise the minimum school property tax rate from 25 mills to 28 mills, to pay for the vast improvements in school facilities the court has ordered to make the school system adequate and equitable. It also would make for a fairer ratio of property tax to sales tax. Arkansas relies excessively on the sales tax, which is especially onerous for low-income people, while keeping property taxes unnaturally low. Pulaski County Circuit/County Clerk Pat O’Brien O’Brien is a popular lawyer with a strong background in government and good ideas about cleaning up the mess in the clerk’s office. That mess developed under the incumbent, Carolyn Staley. Staley’s not running this time, but her chief deputy is O’Brien’s opponent. The county can’t stand more of the same in the clerk’s office. House District 27 Dawn Creekmore A supporter of the public schools, Creekmore is endorsed by the Arkansas Education Association. House District 29 State Rep. Janet Johnson The hard-working Bryant teacher is a stalwart progressive voice in a body that needs one. House District 38 David Johnson He’s a hard-working young lawyer who went door to door to win the Democratic nomination in a hard-fought primary. His work as a deputy prosecutor gives him insight into the pressing problem of crime. But he also distinguishes himself as a dedicated friend of public education. He has the AEA endorsement. House District 45 State Rep. Betty Pickett The Conway lawmaker, one of the most knowledgeable people on education in Arkansas, deserves re-election. House District 46 Robbie Wills Voters in a portion of Faulkner County have a chance to make a quantum leap forward in representation by electing Wills to the House of Representatives. It is not only that they’ll be electing a proven, able legislator — Wills has been a progressive, active member of the Quorum Court. It’s that Wills will succeed the tax-money-sucking, do-nothing current representative, Marvin Parks. Another good thing: Wills is a lawyer and the legislature could use a few more. Finally, a victory for Wills would repudiate the shameful deal enjoyed by his Republican opponent, John Smith. Smith is the University of Central Arkansas administrator who’s had the year off, with $158,000 in pay, to make a race for the House. It’s a slap in the face to hard-working faculty at UCA and all taxpayers. It should not be rewarded. Senate District 32 Jim Argue The public schools have no stronger champion in the legislature than Argue. He was instrumental also in raising the ethical standards of the Senate. Senate District 33 Irma Hunter Brown Though her Republican opponent, Herbert Broadway, is a successful entrepreneur who’s made welcome investments in the inner city, we recommend the re-election of Senator Brown, whose legislative career is distinguished by progressive votes on tax issues. Her support of schools won her the AEA endorsement. Wrightsville District Court Herbert T. Wright Jr. Why bother? Because this court, which mostly hears traffic cases and such from the little community in the southern end of Pulaski County, has countywide jurisdiction and because legislation next year could expand its caseload significantly. Wright is a respected criminal lawyer who brims with ideas about making the court a more useful part of the county’s court system. Justice of the Peace District 1 Mary Dornhoffer We don’t share many of JP Dan Greenberg’s political viewpoints. But we gave him credit in the beginning of his term for hard work and his interest in ethical government. That was then. He’s turned the Quorum Court into a squabbling circus with divisive, pointless measures to grab publicity. The worst is his recent effort to join Republican cohort Jim Porter in demagoguing same-sex marriage. His opponent says it’s "silly" for the Quorum Court to waste time debating a constitutional amendment voters will decide soon enough. There are other reasons to vote for Dornhoffer. She’s proven her ability to work effectively with her work in a successful fight to scale down a proposed apartment development in her Pinnacle Mountain neighborhood. She faults Greenberg, as other neighbors do, for signing off on a sewage treatment plant smack in the most scenic valley in Pulaski County. Justice of the Peace District 3 Kathy Lewison The incumbent is a clear and easy choice. She’s been a diligent and rational member of a body not always distinguished by such qualities. But she’s also been the focus of an unfair campaign by Republicans to abridge her statutory right to perform marriages and even her constitutional right of assembly at the county courthouse. Many people desire a civil ceremony performed by a JP. Lewison happily makes herself available in the grand tradition of such former JPs as Jeffrey Hawkins and Julia Mae McDaniel. Bully for her. Little Rock Board of Directors Position 10 Reader’s choice In different ways, we like all three candidates for the for the at-large seat held by Joan Adcock. Adcock is the neighborhood’s friend, a reliable vote for local residents in just about every scrap. Her dogged support of the little guy has worn out her welcome with some in the development community. She has made enemies, too, with her aggressiveness (bullying, some city employees might say privately). But she makes things happen. Bill Rector, a newspaper publisher and long-time member of the Planning Commission, has become the candidate of the development community, but that shouldn’t be taken as a criticism. He comes from one of the city’s most storied real estate families and has done some developing himself, though not recently. But he’s been a consensus builder on the Planning Commission and a supporter of sound development practices. He’s no rubber stamp. He has a good city sensibility, too. He lives in the middle of town and joined a valiant but unsuccessful downtown redevelopment project some years ago. Kevin Dedner is a bright young newcomer who works for a nonprofit agency. He’s got the backing of the city’s progressive political groups. That means, for one good thing, that he’ll forthrightly tell you of his belief in the merits of development impact fees to defray some of the burdens created by growth. He knows what smart growth means and discusses it, and just about every other city issue, easily and surely. He could provide some more representation for inner-city neighborhoods. The pushy old pro, the friendly businessman, the engaging up-and-comer: It’s the reader’s choice. North Little Rock Mayor Patrick Henry Hays The incumbent is a progressive and a go-getter. Better keep him.

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