Columns » John Brummett

Gilbert Baker and other oddities

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It appears that Gilbert Baker will be re-elected today as chairman of the Arkansas Republican Party. That’s weird all the way around.

Only in our charmingly bizarre little state — that’s what I’m thinking. Actually, I think that all the time.

I’d hate to move here and presume to start writing about our politics. You’d really need an introductory course in Arkansas as a second political language.

First, Gilbert was chairman during the recent elections when the state’s Republicans, who were uncommonly anemic already, got creamed. I mean creamed. They could hardly go backward, but somehow did.

Usually there are recriminations in such instances, especially at the top. Not here. The only two Republican officeholders still standing in Arkansas, tattered Mike Huckabee and meek John Boozman, have endorsed Baker’s continued service.

It’s true that Gilbert steered the party out of fiscal disaster and got Karl Rove to come here twice, which, now that I think about it, wasn’t so much a good thing. But as my favorite Arkansas political blogger put it the other day to explain Baker’s likely re-election: Nothing beats success.

He was being a smart-aleck.

Second, what are the odds that I, a usual left-leaner, would be pals with the state Republican chairman? Gilbert called two days ago. Twice. He came by the next day to introduce me to a dapper young man interested in journalism and politics who was shadowing him for a day. Next week I’ll trek to Conway to join Gilbert and Lu Hardin for the annual lunch with people who bid for this supposed privilege in raising money for some good musical cause. Gilbert is an old percussionist teacher at UCA.

Meantime, I have scant dealings with the free-spending and big-talking Jason Willett, the Democratic chairman, which is probably a good thing for both of us.

Third, only in our little corner of the world could Gilbert Baker be the moderate alternative to anything. Yet here he is, only a shade to the left of his buddy Jim Holt, and then mostly because Gilbert only has eight or so kids, but propped up by Huckabee and Boozman as the fire wall against a fatal extremist takeover.

Fourth, it is more than passing strange that a state Republican chairman would also be an active state senator, and that, as a senator, would join a coalition with Democrats to deny the historic first election of a Republican to the president pro tem’s position — and, for good measure, kick that Republican out of his chairmanship of the Joint Budget Committee.

But that’s exactly what's happened. Gilbert has fallen with that Brotherhood outfit to divvy up surplus money and  keep that competent, moderate and progressive Republican senator from Rogers, Dave Bisbee, out of leadership positions.
To explain that would take pages. Basically, it’s that the politics of our legislature have absolutely nothing to do with the partisan electoral alignments. The politics of our legislature are personal, regional and stupid.

Anyway, it was my throwing Gilbert into that Brotherhood column the other day that caused him to call. He wanted me to know that  he will spend his equal share of the surplus not on local pork, but by passing it on to the University of Central Arkansas. He also wanted me to know he would support removing any or all of the sales tax from food.

Swell. I wanted him to know that when you throw in with the Brotherhood, you’re responsible for all of it.
Then we kind of got into it, which is the only thing in this column that makes any sense.

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