Columns » John Brummett

Pippen rejoins Jordan, metaphorically

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It’s important for you to know that the state’s leading poultry industry lobbyist will be the chief of staff to the new governor.
Actually, Morril Harriman resigned from the top position at the Arkansas Poultry Federation at midnight election night. He said that was as fast as he could get it done once it became certain that his best friend, Mike Beebe, had won the governor’s race.

He wanted no overlap. His service to the governor-elect started the very next morning, when he accompanied Beebe to courtesy calls on legislators at the Capitol.

It’s long been understood between them: If Beebe became governor, he was taking Harriman with him.

“Mike and I have talked about this for a long time,” Harriman told me Wednesday. “Public service is my first love, and I truly enjoyed every minute of working with him in the state Senate. And along the way, we absolutely became best friends.”

People will look at this either of two ways.

Some will decry the outrage of a special interest lobbyist rising to the second-highest level of state government. They will see it as powerful proof that, as Mike Huckabee warned, the Beebe government will be run by powerful insiders.

This means government by and for Tyson and the chicken cabal, some will say. “Little guy” my foot, some will say.

Others will see compelling common sense in the move. They will say that Harriman and Beebe were whiz-kid state senators together until term limits ended their legislative tenures prematurely and arbitrarily. Others will say that these two men pretty much ran the Legislature in the 1990s as different halves of the same brain, with Harriman the detail guy and Beebe the out-front guy.

The “Pippen and Jordan” of Arkansas legislating, a columnist once called them. Beebe would be Michael Jordan, doing the shooting and the flashy scoring. Harriman would be Scottie Pippen, playing defense, getting rebounds, dishing assists, moving out to point guard at times.

These others will say that it will be infinitely better for the new governor to have his trusted best friend and the other half of his brain beside him working for the general interest rather than down the street wielding influence for the potent poultry industry.
I am in the latter group, the “others,” meaning those who support this appointment.

That’s because I saw the effectiveness with which Beebe and Harriman worked together as senators. It’s also because I already knew that Beebe was a pro-business Democrat. And it’s because I accept the wisdom that it will be better for Harriman to be working for Beebe and in general government service rather than for the chicken industry alone.

Harriman tells me he will not participate in any policy discussions in the governor’s office affecting the poultry industry directly. He said that, to be frank, he didn’t simply represent the poultry industry to draw a nice paycheck, but because he personally believed in its importance to the state, and still does.

And that’s not to say he won’t advise on general business issues, such as, say, workers compensation. Indeed, it would be hard — no, impossible — for a governor’s chief of staff in Arkansas to function without crossing paths with poultry interests.

A governor’s chief of staff will probably make from $100,000 to $115,000 a year. Harriman told me that such a salary level would represent a “very big” pay cut for him.

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