Columns » John Brummett

Musical chairs and hangers-on

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It's one of the more uninspiring periods in state government. People commenced announcing last week that they intend to run for this or that among the pointless constitutional offices housed sleepily in the state Capitol.

You have, for example, land commissioner, which was created as a major elected office by our 135-year-old state Constitution. It is nothing more in the modern era than a clerical agency keeping records of delinquent taxes on real property.

You have the auditor of state, which writes state government's checks. You have the state treasurer, which cashes them. The Department of Finance and Administration could incorporate both those assembly-line functions easily.

You have lieutenant governor, a waste of perfectly good second-floor closet space, even if, as it happens, Bill Halter has made something of it — actually of himself, more to the point — with this lottery.

You have secretary of state, which, actually, has real and significant duties, mainly the keeping of vast records and the maintenance of the Capitol grounds, but which is — with an occasional exception — hardly worthy of major political competition. A garden-variety office manager with a thumb for landscaping could do the job with the other thumb tied behind his or her back.

That occasional exception is that, every 10 years, the secretary of state joins the governor and attorney general on the official board that redraws state legislative districts pursuant to the findings of the new decennial census.

Should the circumstance ever arise that the governor and attorney general would hail from opposing parties at redistricting time, then it would indeed matter a great deal whether the secretary of state was a Democrat or Republican.

You can draw legislative districts to enhance one party's chances over another, of course.

But next time the board will almost assuredly include Mike Beebe and Mike Beebe Jr., by which I mean Dustin McDaniel, both Democrats. So it will matter not. The status quo will prevail, as it almost always does in Arkansas state government.

The main thing these offices are good for is providing cushy, low-profile, low-stress employment to political hangers-on, several of whom are nondescript legislators who took a liking to hanging around the Capitol during sessions and discovered that there are these little political offices available for the taking.

Charlie Daniels was an ol' boy labor Democrat hanging around Nick Wilson when he noticed that land commissioner was available, then secretary of state, which he now holds but for which he is term-limited.

Charlie always gets more votes than anybody statewide, be it a Pryor, Clinton or Beebe, partly because the Republican challenger is always wholly unknown and partly because Charlie Daniels is a name people recognize — mainly, whether they know it or not, for fiddling.

Now Charlie tells me he is 99.9 percent sure he'll run to move across the hall to the other side of the stairs and become state auditor. He brings no auditing experience, but, luckily, none is needed.

The land commissioner who succeeded Daniels, Mark Wilcox, is also term-limited. So, yes, he is said to be contemplating running for secretary of state.

A nondescript term-limited state legislator, an amiable ol' boy named Monty Davenport from northern Arkansas, has declared he'll be happy to become land commissioner.

The treasurer's fort is held down by Martha Shoffner, an inconsequential term-limited state representative from Northeast Arkansas who dresses well and, for some reason, gets votes by the truckload.

Finally, to save the best for last, let me introduce you to the term-limited auditor of state. He's Jim Wood, also a nondescript former state legislator from Northeast Arkansas, and my new hero.

He tells me he's not going to run for anything else next year.

“I'm going home,” Wood says. “The people have been good to me and I don't want to wear out my welcome.”

As in any game of musical chairs, one guy is left standing.

 

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