Some thoughts on voting:
TOP OF THE TICKET: The Democratic Party candidates for top offices — Sen. Mark Pryor, gubernatorial candidate Mike Ross and congressional candidates Jackie McPherson (1st), Pat Hays (2nd) and James Lee Witt (4th) — are cut from remarkably similar cloth. They are centrists, with records of bipartisanship in public life. In each race, Republican opponents are from the extreme right end of the spectrum.
ISSUES: Two easy NO votes (Issues 1 and 2) on legislative amendments: one to take control of executive agency rules and the other to make it harder to put initiatives on the ballot. Two easy YES votes (Issues 4 and 5) — to allow legal sales of six-packs of beer and other alcohol in all 75 counties and to increase the state minimum wage of $6.25 an hour. A conflicted NO vote for me (Issue 3): What started as an ethics amendment was polluted by the addition of a path to legislative pay raises and longer term limits. But, in fairness, the measure could put a limit on corporate campaign contributions. This could end the purchase of state Supreme Court and attorney general seats by the likes of nursing home magnate Michael Morton.
CONTROL OF STATEWIDE OFFICES: The outcome of elections for the seven statewide offices — governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer, auditor and land commissioner — determines partisan control of county election commissions, currently controlled by Democrats. If Republicans win four seats, they take control. Their record doesn't inspire confidence that this would broaden voter participation. See the Republicans' unconstitutional voter ID law and, for just one other example, the Lonoke County Republican election commissioner who backed early voting in the Republican part of the county but not the Democratic part.
QUALIFICATIONS FOR STATE OFFICE: Democrats fielded qualified candidates for all seven statewide offices. The Republicans are a mixed bag. The integrity and qualifications gap is particularly wide for: 1) secretary of state, where Democrat Susan Inman challenges the inept Secretary of State-in-Hiding Mark Martin; 2) treasurer, where a corporate accountant and proven public servant, Karen Sealy Garcia, is the choice over a bullying political blackmailer, the GOP's Dennis Milligan, and 3) attorney general, where the solid Nate Steel, small-town lawyer and prosecutor, offers a stark contrast to the checkered employment history and poor judgment of Republican Leslie Rutledge. Then there's lieutenant governor, an office of little importance. If it must be filled and if economic development really is an issue, you have a proven successful, self-made businessman, John Burkhalter, against Republican Tim Griffin, who's spent most of his working life hauling toxic waste as a Republican political hit man.
DOWN THE BALLOT: The crazy expenditures on the races for U.S. Senate and governor make it hard for lesser offices to break through the noise. Those worth considering include: House District 35, where Democrat Clarke Tucker is the choice over Republican Stacy Hurst. Hurst's dishonest campaign has shown contempt for the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of legal counsel, schemed to make political hay out of Tucker's 4-year-old son and demonstrated her vindictive streak, something already in oversupply at the legislature. .... Little Rock City Board, where Ward 2 incumbent director Ken Richardson, one of the board's most independent voices, deserves re-election ... Pulaski Quorum Court, where District 3 JP Kathy Lewison should be favored to continue her community-oriented service in a swing district over yet another right-wing extremist challenger ... This week's courthouse tossup: Barry Hyde and Phil Wyrick for Pulaski County judge.
THE QUESTION OF THE YEAR: Are issues and qualifications relevant? Or is Republican Party identification enough? Answers will be evident in Susan Inman's race for secretary of state against the bumbling, absentee incumbent and three races for state House in Benton County, where the Democratic candidates are so superior that even the local Republican-owned newspaper is backing them.