Columns » John Brummett

Government technicians for Beebe

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Bill Clinton still has it, meaning that dazzling ability to blend phoniness, perspective and profundity in a couple of breaths. About the time your stomach starts to turn, you find yourself starting to feel better and saying “hmmm,” then “yeah, amen.”

The big man came to North Little Rock the other night to speak for his old pal Mike Beebe at a massive frog leg dinner. The crowd was massive, I mean, not the frog legs, which looked regular-sized.

Ever the chameleon, Your Boy Bill deployed his hang-dog, good-ol’ boy, aw-shucks, drop-those-g’s color.

He kept talking about “our state,” meaning the one in his rear view mirror. He bragged that he could help Hillary at the New York State Fair because he knew about planting cycles and one end of a horse from the other. And I was saying to myself that he certainly knew the hind end.

But then he hauled off and told everybody — in that synthesizing way of his — what the Arkansas governor’s race was all about.

He said Republican candidates tend to sit around thinking of ways to drive wedges and demonize their opponents. He said people like Beebe sit around making government work and trying to help people with pre-K programs and needs-based college scholarships that Republicans oppose.

That’s not as oversimplified and stereotypical as it sounds. Generally speaking, Republicans want to beat up the gays and the illegal immigrants and question their opponents’ patriotism. Democrats in Washington aren’t much better. But there remains a variety of Democrat in Arkansas — Mark Pryor, Beebe — that likes to work things out.

I suppose that was why Mike Huckabee’s budget experts were in the long line for frog legs. Richard Weiss, director of the Finance and Administration Department, was there with his two chief deputies, Tim Leathers and Mike Stormes.

Yes, perhaps they’re picking a winner, which says quite a bit in itself. But maybe it’s also true that they spent years working on state budgets with Beebe, and respect him.

I’m wondering how Asa Hutchinson’s spin agents might attempt to dismiss this support for Beebe from the primary governmental technicians of the Huckabee administration. They can’t call them tax-raisers without implicating their party’s incumbent governor. They could say that of course state government’s career bureaucrats favor Mr. Insider, meaning Beebe, while the regular people (or maybe one in three, according to polls) embrace Asa. It’s better than nothing.

Stan Russ, the resplendently decent former state senator from Conway, was there. A conservative Democrat, he appeared to have pretty much gone Republican, or at least into Huckabee’s camp, in recent years. But he did a stint as chairman of Joint Budget, and, in so doing, learned first-hand the value of the shirt-sleeved guy at the end of the table who knew more than anyone else and could explain everything. Beebe, I mean.

Russ’ attendance reminded me of something. Stan was the first state senator opposing Nick Wilson. Then Vic Snyder came along to lend noble conscience. But only when Beebe joined up and brought a coalition of 18 to 20 followers did Wilson’s power get significantly sapped.

That’s Beebe. He wasn’t the first or their bravest. Russ was. He wasn’t the most conscientious. Sndyer was. But he was the most effective.

And there, from Nick Wilson to Stan Russ to Vic Snyder to Mike Beebe, you have your full gamut of Arkansas Democrats: The crook, the conservatively brave, the liberally conscientious, the effective.

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