The Arkansas Republican
They're here. They're the majority. They're not going away any time soon.
A consummate politician who acted, for the most part, from a desire to do right by the Arkansas people, he's leaving office with some of the highest approval ratings of any governor in the country. A mixed record on social issues and the environment was more than offset by decent work on education and absolutely monumental accomplishments in health care. Beebe steered the state through the recession and worked both sides of the aisle with a master's touch. He'll be missed.
Copley, a Methodist minister and executive director for the Arkansas Coalition for Peace and Justice, headed up the drive to raise the state minimum wage. He recognized that it was a propitious time — a poll indicated great support among Arkansas voters for raising our $6.25 an hour minimum — and worked to get the signatures needed to put the raise to a vote at the 2014 general election. For Copley, raising the wage (now $7.50 an hour, $8 an hour in 2016 and $8.50 in 2017) was a moral issue: "It's not right when people work hard and play by the rules and fall behind and can't make a living."
No single figure better symbolized the maddening, one-step-forward, two-steps-back atmosphere that pervaded Arkansas this year than this catfish noodler turned reality TV star at the center of Discovery Channel's new series "Clash of the Ozarks." He is stubborn, a man committed to a traditional way of life and resistant to the forces of modernity. He loves his land and will stand up to anyone who poaches on it (or who makes a grab for his moonshine). "You'd rather try to pour hot butter up a wildcat's ass than mess with him when he's mad," as one character memorably described him. He is us.
Sen. Tom Cotton
The hard-right congressman from Dardanelle knocked off Mark Pryor and ascended to the U.S. Senate in one of the most expensive midterm elections in the country. In the end, it wasn't remotely close. Expect plenty of saber rattling, Obama cursing, welfare baiting and other such red meat for his base, as well as the inevitable run for higher office somewhere down the line.
The Arkansas Democrat
No, we're not talking about the newspaper. We're talking about those out there in Arkansas who refuse to go gentle into that Red night; the folks fighting hard in the hinterlands for progressive causes, from voter rights to medical marijuana to the recently repealed LGBT civil rights ordinance up in Fayetteville. Living on Blue Island Pulaski, we forget sometimes just how conservative, monochromatic and hyper-theistic it can be out there where the streetlights stop in Arkansas — a fact that was proven heartily by the Republicans' better-dead-than-Dem sweep of the state's constitutional offices in November. For everyone still fighting for the Arkansas of 2015 instead of 1915, however, we say: Keep the faith, and keep fighting. You are The Resistance.
Cheryl Maples and Jack Wagoner
The next time somebody starts telling you a particularly nasty lawyer joke, remind them of Cheryl Maples and Jack Wagoner III, two sterling examples of the profession who did Arkansas proud this year by fighting tooth and nail for LGBT marriage equality. Maples said she took on the case in honor of her gay daughter, while Wagoner told us for a profile in June that he just likes fighting for the rights of the little guy. "This is the United States," Wagoner said. "We're supposed to be tolerant. We don't have to like what other people want to do, and they don't have to like what we do. But if there's not some demonstrable harm to somebody that's coming of it, people ought to be left alone."
Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Chris Piazza
His ruling finding the state law against gay marriage unconstitutional was one of rare eloquence among the Arkansas judiciary last year. Referring to a previous case brought by a woman who wished to marry a man of a different race, Piazza wrote:
"It has been over forty years since Mildred Loving was given the right to marry the person of her choice. The hatred and fears have long since vanished and she and her husband lived full lives together; so it will be for the same-sex couples.
"It is time to let that beacon of freedom shine brighter on all our brothers and sisters. We will be stronger for it."
His 24-year tenure as Pulaski County judge and cooperation with North Little Rock Mayor Pat Hays and Little Rock Mayor Jim Dailey (earning them the nickname "The Three Amigos") has left permanent, excellent imprints upon the face of the county: the Big Dam Bridge, Two Rivers Bridge, Two Rivers Park. Now, his ongoing battle, solving overcrowding at the Pulaski County Jail, is new County Judge Barry Hyde's problem.
Rapper Faux started 2014 as a talented but largely unknown mainstay of the youthful Little Rock rap scene that shot videos in their backyards and held showcases in the River Market. She ended the year having collaborated with Childish Gambino, signed a management deal, had a song featured in a Chris Rock movie and was in rotation on New York's legendary radio station Hot 97. She also released two of the best local records of the year and, unfortunately for us, relocated to L.A. Still, she soundtracked the city this summer, it was her year — and she'll be back. As she told us in November, "I love Arkansas. I'm a true Arkansan."
The Fayetteville alderman spent 2014 fighting the good fight: He was the sponsor of a city ordinance outlawing housing and employment discrimination against LGBT persons (among other classes), a measure that passed the Fayetteville City Council but was narrowly rejected by voters after a shameful campaign of demagoguery from Northwest Arkansas's religious right. Petty has said he'll revise the ordinance and try again.
Fresh off a victory over old rival Texas — and with Mike Beebe out of office — the head Hog has likely become the most popular man in Arkansas. But our pathology swings dramatically between hope and bitterness. If this year's football team doesn't substantially improve on last year's 7-6 record, we'll pin all our anxieties and anger about everything else in life on the plight of the Hogs and Bielema will be to blame. Rah rah.