Columns » Max Brantley

Politics is local

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An incumbent isn’t running for Arkansas governor for the first time since 1978. The race should be exciting, but, as an editorial in The Leader said recently, it has been “painfully mechanical.”

The favorite, Democrat Mike Beebe, has emphasized humble roots and tried to avoid mistakes. He has status quo written all over him. But better that than the unoriginal Republican Asa Hutchinson, who loves guns, hates abortion, school consolidation and gay rights and rarely misses a chance to hiss that Beebe is a liberal. Beebe’s no liberal, unless it means that he’s occasionally voted for taxes that have barely kept the state ahead of prison, medical and school needs.

The dreary gubernatorial race makes the Little Rock mayoral race, with four interesting, experienced candidates, more fun to watch. For starters, you have two black candidates, Jesse Mason and Bill Walker, competing for the generally monolithic black vote and both of them happen to have homes in ritzy Chenal Valley. The field is completed by Mark Stodola, now a Heights resident who spent some years as part of the downtown historic restoration movement, and Barbara Graves, a West Little Rock retailer and City Board veteran.

Mason set the tone by calling for more cops to combat rising crime. Walker, maybe more in touch with the base he hopes to dominate, wants to balance enforcement with prevention and rehabilitation. Stodola has employed a surplus from earlier political campaigns to hit TV early with ads by which he hopes to spread-eagle the field. A former prosecutor who’s shut down drug houses, he says he knows how to fight crime.

Stodola’s ads last week prompted the first major gaffe of the race. Graves criticized Stodola’s tactic in an interview with the Democrat-Gazette. “Is he running for mayor, which is policies and procedures? Or is he running for sheriff or prosecutor or police chief or assistant police chief? What’s he running for?”

Crime is an issue, if not THE issue. Voters don’t want a mayor who’ll score an A on a “policies and procedures” quiz. They want a leader who understands their needs and inspires them with ideas. They don’t want to be told their issues are irrelevant.

We also want our leaders beyond reproach. Stodola should make it unequivocally clear that he’ll resign his job as attorney to the Little Rock Airport Commission if he’s elected and that he’ll guarantee that no future money paid his firm for the work will reach him directly or indirectly. Similarly, Bill Walker need not delay an announcement that he’ll instantly give up his role as minority contractor on airport catering should he be elected. He also should pledge to sever that relationship in a transparent way so that voters have no cause for lingering suspicion. (It is true that Walker’s forceful personality is the template for the type of person who could be a successful mayor despite the job’s structural limitations.)

Crime. Impact fees. Sprawl. Meaningful code enforcement. Tax policy. The form of government. The rising cost of city services. Protection of Lake Maumelle. These are issues that truly hit voters where they live. A mayor can set the agenda and deliver a swing vote. For that reason, and personalities, too, I find the race more interesting than A$a’s warmed-over imitation of a 1992 Sheffield Nelson and Mike’s impression of the Mark Pryor rope-a-dope strategy.




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