Columns » John Brummett

Race without reason, revisited


Some of my friends are trying to explain to me that the Democratic challenge to the re-election of state Sen. Gilbert Baker in Conway is important. They want me to quit writing that the outcome doesn't matter, because that essentially condones Baker's re-election.

One fellow e-mailed that he was about to have a heart attack over the prospect of Baker's winning.

For one thing, he wrote, Baker opposes the lottery amendment and favors the spiteful, anti-child initiated act intended to bar gay adoption and foster care. The Democratic challenger, businessman Joe White, favors the lottery and opposes the gay ban.

My friends ask: Doesn't the fact that White sees both issues my way and Baker wholly the other count for anything?

Sure. Good for Joe. Bad for Gil. But those matters aren't actually at stake in this election. Voters will have decided them by the time legislators assemble in January.
Further, my correspondent warns, a re-elected Baker would become chairman of the Joint Budget Committee. Thus he would advance that controlling small-minded clique in the Senate coalescing around nominally Democratic Sen. Bob Johnson of Bigelow, who has endorsed the Republican Baker, and calling itself the “Brotherhood.”

But Johnson's leadership is going to metastasize in the Senate anyway, Gilbert or no, on account of his being president pro tem this time. He's going to have 20 to 25 votes. If not Baker calling on those raising their hands in Joint Budget, it'll be some other Brotherhooder, maybe the bombastic Terry Smith of Hot Springs.

Anyway, Baker is not unreasonable fiscally. He split with Bigelow Bob occasionally, most notably in the last special session in which Baker sided with Gov. Mike Beebe to raise severance taxes on natural gas while Bigelow Bob was over there alone being ridiculous.

Then there's a term-limited Democratic senator, widely extolled deservedly as a statesman, who writes to assert importance in defeating Baker. He says Johnson and his “Brotherhood” allies like Baker insist on taking surplus funds to themselves for local projects. Beebe endeavors to impair that silliness and get more of the money spent strategically for general statewide purposes. White, as a Democratic challenger supported by the governor, would be with Beebe. Anything in the governor's direction would be helpful, our statesman says.

I've railed as long as anyone, longer than most, against this “Brotherhood” and its silly divvying up of surplus money for local play-pretties.

But get a load of this: Baker, while aligning with the “Brotherhood,” has spent every dime of his millions in capital money on the University of Central Arkansas, a statewide purpose. And get this: This very Joe White put out a mailer last week criticizing Baker for sending all his capital improvement money to UCA and neglecting the county at large.

I guess the point is that we should pay no attention to what White says and trust that, should he get elected, he'd be Beebe's puppet.

I'm fine with a Beebe puppet. But I'd also prefer one with some consistency of position.

Actually, both Baker and Johnson went along with Beebe last time on taking a deep slab of the capital money off the top, mainly for cancer research at UAMS and investment in incentives designed to stimulate a so-called knowledge-based economy. It was one of the supposed Senate good members, Mary Anne Salmon of North Little Rock, who took some of her surplus share and funneled this taxpayer money, without a sin-gle string attached, to a nonprofit old jocks' monument. I refer, of course, to the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.

Finally, White attacked Baker for not having a hunting or fishing license. Please.
Democrats think the gun issue is about hunting. So they all went out and had pictures taken of themselves carrying dead ducks. But the conservative fervor about guns has to do more with protection of self, family and property than with whether one is a sporting outdoorsman.

So do I have a recommendation in this race? Yes. It's that I don't.

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