Columns » John Brummett

Jim Keet takes cake, drops ball


From the moment it happened, I knew the metaphor was entirely too easy but that I would prove unable to resist.

This column was writing itself. It was doing so all over the floor of Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Keet's campaign headquarters.

Keet was reeling from reports that he hadn't paid all his taxes. He was angry about a newspaper headline that overstated that he was blaming his wife.

So what he did before his news conference began was call his wife, Doodie, to the front. Then he retrieved from the side room a 39th anniversary cake. Then he accidentally turned the cake upside down on the floor as he carried it toward her.

You can imagine the quips emanating from press row. Here's one: "That cake looks like it got thrown under the bus with Doodie."

The metaphor is that Keet's campaign is pretty much smashed on the floor, too.

He was in the untenable position at this news conference of essentially arguing that his nonpayment of property taxes on his personal airplane was but a diversion, not a real issue, not a big deal. Hey, he said, he got current on property taxes as soon as he learned — from the press — of his obligation. He said he wrote a check for about $2,000.

And he was mad, transparently so, though not at himself. He was peeved at Gov. Mike Beebe for, or so Keet alleged, hiring a private investigator to look into such things.

Beebe doesn't like that phrase — private investigator. He says "opposition research" is common.

Here you have a wealthy businessman just returned to Arkansas from Florida and offering himself as the Republican candidate for governor. He presumes to say he knows better than Beebe how to run the state. Yet he was in arrears on some of his local taxes.

Here, then, is how he needed to handle revelations that he had an airplane of his own that he registered in Nevada for tax advantages but parked in Arkansas without paying the appropriate local property taxes:

"I am more embarrassed about this than I can say. I am more angry at myself than I can say. This was the result of neglectful oversight, not any intent to avoid. But that doesn't change the fact that I am singularly and wholly responsible.

"I am very, very sorry. I want to thank the local newspaper for bringing this to my attention, at which point I immediately attended to the matter and paid the tax in full.

"Not many people in Arkansas can afford a plane, and any Arkansan as fortunate as I to own one surely ought to keep the taxes current.

"But don't forget that airplanes are legitimate issues in this campaign for more reasons than this. Gov. Mike Beebe rides in one that the taxpayers bought for him. I think that's wasteful and, as one of my first acts as governor, I will sell that airplane.

"It doesn't make my mistake right, but I do wish to point out that what I'll save the taxpayers by selling that ever-depreciating hangar queen will be much more than the amount I was negligent in paying on my own airplane.

"I promise that I will do better on management of my affairs. And I promise that, as governor, I will lead the state in doing better on management of its affairs."

But he didn't say any of that. He dropped the ball, plus the cake.

Oh, well. My proposed text is better, but hardly ideal and merely the best one might make of a bad situation.

Keet's candidacy is probably flattened on the floor no matter what he says.

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