For many years I have been watching and writing about political elections in Arkansas, but I don’t think I ever saw any strategy quite as sneaky as something that Mike Hathorn tried to use last week.
Hathorn, a 32-year-old lawyer who was a former state legislator from Huntsville (home of the late six-term governor Orval Faubus), is trying to be elected lieutenant governor this year. First, Hathorn must defeat three others to win the Democrat primary next Tuesday.
Some of Hathorn’s friends (two who each gave him $1,000 to campaign) had lawyers go to court to argue that the Arkansas Constitution says that a candidate for governor or lieutenant governor had to live in Arkansas for at least seven years. Therefore, Bill Halter, Hathorn’s major opponent, wasn’t eligible because Halter had lived in Washington, D.C., and other places for several years until he moved back to Arkansas in 2005 when he decided to run for office.
Arkansas’s 132-year-old Constitution says: “No person shall be eligible to the office of Governor except a citizen of the United States who shall have attained the age of thirty years, and shall have been seven years a resident of this state... The lieutenant governor shall possess the same qualifications of eligibility for the office of the governor.”
Hathorn’s lawyers argued that the writers of the constitution meant that candidates had to live seven years in the state before running for office. Circuit Judge Mary McGowan quickly ruled that Halter was qualified to run for office because he had never abandoned Arkansas as his home. She said: “If the framers of the 1874 Arkansas Constitution had wanted to require seven years immediately before the election as a qualification, they could have done so, and they did not.” One of Hathorn’s lawyer friends said he would appeal to the Arkansas Supreme Court.
All of this seems silly. Arkansas’s Constitution is one of the oldest in the United States. When written, the state’s five largest cities were just over 1,000 people, and the United States had only 27 towns over that size. One historian, the late Diane Blair, wrote that Arkansas’s Constitution “restricts more than it enables.” Five attempts have been made to rewrite the Constitution, the last being 1995, but most citizens always vote no because they are scared by the opposing advertising of wealthy people and big businesses that are getting rich from the state and don’t want any changes.
Is it really important how many years a candidate lives in the state? Only 17 of Arkansas’s 45 governors were born in Arkansas. The other 28 came from other states, mostly Tennessee. Some of those from other states were the best governors we have ever had — Win Rockefeller of New York, Charles Brough of Mississippi, George Donaghey of Louisiana, Carl Bailey of Missouri, etc.
Now this man Halter who Hathorn was trying to dump was born in Arkansas. So was his father, now 71 years old and still here. Halter, age 44, was graduated in 1979 from Catholic High School where he had played football and basketball. He worked summers at Kroger, got a scholarship from the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, made straight A’s at school and for that got a National Merit Scholarship and went to Stanford University in California to study economics.
In his junior year at Stanford, he got a Rhodes Scholarship and spent three years at Oxford in England. He managed to travel to Egypt, Israel, Poland, Germany and the Soviet Union. Back in the United States, he got a job in a management-consulting firm and three years later he was hired by the United States Senate Committee on Finance as its chief economist. Later he moved to Congress’ Joint Economy Committee.
In 1992 he came back to Little Rock to write an economic policy for Bill Clinton’s campaign. After Clinton became president, Halter went back to Washington to work for the Office of Management and Budget in the White House for six and one-half years. Then he went to work at Social Security and became its first confirmed deputy commissioner.
Today Halter is involved in many things. He’s been a trustee at Stanford University, a member of the board of Friends for Youth, serves on the board of Akarmai Technologies and is a consultant for several other companies. He is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, a Marshall Scholar and a Harry Truman Scholar. He believes and says that better education is what will push Arkansas forward.
In 2002 in Washington, I met Halter and wrote a column about him because he was smart and was thinking about running for governor of Arkansas. I really thought he was serious when I noticed that he had an Arkansas license on his car. I think this man’s interest is to come back home and improve it. With his intelligence and experience, I think he could do it even though he hasn’t lived all his life in Arkansas.