Columns » Max Brantley

Hope and change

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Last week brought some hopeful developments on the political front in a state that Gallup says has risen to be the sixth most-conservative in the country.

Young, progressive, good-government minded people told me about plans to take action to prevent Arkansas from turning into another Mississippi, Alabama or South Carolina. Some details:

REGNANT POPULUS 2012: This is a new ballot question committee that hopes to use social media to build a grassroots network to gather sufficient signatures at the May primary election to put an ethics initiative on the November ballot.

Paul Spencer, a high school teacher, is among the core founders of the group, some of whom spent time with Occupy Little Rock but ached to do something specific and concrete. What better than to battle the poisonous influence of money and corporate influence peddling on the local level.

The proposed initiative is in draft form. The major thrusts: 1) A so-called "Walmart rule." As with a rule governing the Arkansas retailer's employees, elected officials in Arkansas would be prohibited from accepting gifts of any value — drinks, steaks, trips, gewgaws — from people attempting to influence government action. Free swill buys votes. Time to stop it. 2) There'd be a five-year, rather than one-year, cooling off period before a legislator could become a lobbyist. No golden parachutes could be easily arranged while still representing the public. 3) Arkansas campaign finance law would be reshaped to conform to federal campaign finance law. This would end corporate contributions to political candidates. 4) The initiative would be styled as a non-binding vote of opposition to the Citizens United ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, which has already unleashed a flood of mostly anonymous corporate spending in the election process.

If Regnat Populus can get this measure on the ballot, it's hard to see how it could be beaten. Talking points will be hard for the Chamber of Commerce to come by, except the bogus complaint that money is speech and those whose wallets are fatter should have more. This would end no one's speech. It would simply end the ability of some to buy more access than others. Care to pitch in? Write regnatpopuluscfr@gmail.com 

NATURALLY BLUE PAC: A news conference is scheduled the day after we go to press by a group of young Democrats who've decided not to sit idly and watch Arkansas turn red. They've formed a new PAC that also will focus on a grassroots network of people with similar political outlooks. Participants include people who worked in the Obama social media war rooms and others who simply have grown up with computer networking part of their intuitive understanding.

They hope to raise a modest amount of cash for legislative races this year and between that and networking make a difference, particularly in Northwest Arkansas.

Taking a page from Karl Rove — who always believed in attacking Democratic strengths head-on — they say the Democratic Party has made a mistake in writing off the heavily Republican Northwest corner of the state. The population, even when it goes Republican, can produce a big Democratic vote for statewide candidates. With stronger local candidates, enough enthusiasm might be mustered to give statewide candidates the margin they need to win overall.

Newcomers, a rising percentage of young people and the growing Latino population also figure into the Naturally Blue game plan for Northwest Arkansas.

Republicans will scoff at this modest beginning. Let's hope their overconfidence contributes to Naturally Blue's success. Check them at wearenaturallyblue.com.

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