Columns » John Brummett

Seeking attention, Keet gets some



Jim Keet stopped by the office and asked me to close my eyes. Then, as I didn't quite comply, he affixed to my chest a round bumper sticker of red, white and blue that declared his presidential candidacy in 2012.

Don't get the joke? It's understandable.

I had a recent column ridiculing Keet for trying to nationalize the governor's race and seeking to tie Barack Obama's unpopularity in the state around the neck of Mike Beebe, the uncommonly popular Democratic governor.

So this bumper sticker was Keet's attempt to provide a spoof — of himself or of me? — by which the supposed context for his preoccupation with national issues was that his real purpose was to seek the presidency in two years.

If his ultimate point was simply to get me to write about him and his unlikely Republican challenge of Beebe, then I am making his gambit successful.

Yet there remains the small matter of what I actually will say in the remaining space.

I had expected that the purpose of Keet's visit was to deliver to me copies of the incorporation papers for a Taziki's Greek Fare restaurant in Weiner.

Again, permit me to remind you.

The people of Weiner are upset that state law requires the consolidation of their school district because enrollment has slipped below 350. Keet had joined a protest over this closing and declared, alarmingly, that we need to revisit that holy-war issue of minimum school district size. He said keeping the Weiner school district open was simply good business.

So I challenged him to open a franchise of his Taziki's restaurant in Weiner, and, beyond that, to open a free-standing Taziki's a few miles away in Jonesboro, and in Harrisburg, and in Newport, indeed in every community where he wanted to keep open small school districts despite their proximity and sparse population.

Keet told me he didn't really want to talk about Weiner.

It's one thing to get slapped around by me, but he had just been blistered for this Weiner business in an editorial in the Republican statewide newspaper — a potential, if probably unlikely, endorser of him come late October.

Keet did manage to say this: If he had a Taziki's in Weiner already, and if it was profitable, he would do well to keep it open.

But then he said that he knew what my counter-argument would be, which was that it would enhance his efficiency and profitability if, supposing he had a bevy of Taziki's establishments in and around Weiner, he closed one or more.

I saw no need to say anything further, considering that Keet had just debated his own self into submission.

Keet said this race will get more substantive as we go along. But he did say one difference between him and Beebe was management style.

He noted, correctly, that Beebe, over four years as attorney general and nearly four as governor, had never personally visited the Conway Human Development Center in Conway — even as it stands accused by the federal government of failed delivery of services to developmentally disabled persons.

He's more hands-on, Keet said. In fact, he said, when the executive board of a troubled Florida-based restaurant chain asked him to take over as chief executive officer, he insisted on first embedding himself in one of the restaurants as an employee, a management trainee. On his first day, he said, the salad lady told him that, well, bad help was better than no help at all.

The difference is that governors can't embed themselves undercover. Such visits become publicity stunts for governors and dog-and-pony shows for the places visited.

Finally, I'll say this: If the purpose of Keet's visit was to present himself as a likable guy able to laugh at himself, then he succeeded. In fact, I'll add this: Generally speaking, it occurs to me that I find Republican politicians more pleasant and likable than Democratic ones.

The trouble only starts when we talk about politics.

Beebe is one of the likable Democrats, of course. Still, I'll share what a veteran Arkansas political observer told me that she had told Beebe recently. It was not to take Keet lightly because Keet has a "nurturing manner" and Beebe's manner could be a little cocky. That's probably a fair assessment.

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