Columns » John Brummett

The land partisanship forgot


Some Democratic state representatives profess outrage that Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Republican, would dare use his political action committee to send a thousand bucks to the Republican challenger to state Rep. Bill Stovall of Quitman. Stovall is a Democrat who has won his colleagues' election to be the next speaker of the House. That assumes he can defeat at the polls in November the guy to whom Huckabee sent the check. These Democrats say that's not the way it's supposed to work in Arkansas, peculiar little place that it is. When these guys talk, ours sounds almost like an unreconstructed one-party state where Republicans are welcome so long as they don't forget their place and start trying to reproduce. These complainers are Democratic lieutenants of Stovall of a wide range, including: Jay Bradford of White Hall, who defied term limits by jumping from a lengthy Senate career to a House seat, and now, like Huckabee, looks at his last hurrah beginning in January. He extolls Stovall as a master of the state budget, the new Mike Beebe. Will Bond of Jacksonville, a lawyer, baby-faced and a pure rookie, but surely the Rookie of the Year, considering that it was his bill for administrative consolidation of school districts of fewer than 350 students that salvaged the special legislative session on education. They say a governor needs to work with legislators, reach out to natural adversaries and avoid alienation. They say a governor must keep in mind that the modern speaker of the House handpicks all committee chairmen. That makes him an enemy a governor is foolish to make, at least if he wants a good working relationship for the betterment of the state, or so they say. They're assuming Huckabee's guy can't actually beat Stovall, and that's a pretty good guess. That's certainly an argument against the practicality of what Huckabee has done, though not the propriety. A Republican governor aiding the campaigns of Republican legislative candidates, even if pro forma, is a fairly common practice of the modern American political system. Bradford says conciliation was the watchword of the governor he considers the role model, Bill Clinton. Surely we all recall that Clinton so looked forward to the re-election of an old speaker of the House by the name of Newt Gingrich. "I'm not talking about that," Bradford says. "I'm talking about this small ballpark we play in." Those days were different in Arkansas. Clinton worked only with legislative leaders of his own party. There weren't enough Republicans to mount a meek obstruction. Surely there's more to this than Democratic resentment that a Republican governor would send a check to a Republican legislative candidate. And there is. The greater issue is the long-standing pattern. Democratic legislators, particularly House members, believe that Huckabee has never shown any willingness to engage them in interpersonal pleasantries or cooperative efforts. They say he is an instinctive alienator who makes incendiary public pronouncements and washes his hands of the nitty-gritty. They'll tell you in a hurry that they solved the education issue by rolling up their sleeves while Huckabee did nothing other than keep preaching the consolidation sermon long after the congregation had zoned out. They like to point out that the Arkansas Supreme Court just determined that what the legislature did on education was fine. They say Huckabee's ongoing combativeness toward the almost-certain next speaker of the House indicates he's learned nothing about governing and portends more of the dreary same for the next session. Or maybe not. "He may get away with it," Bradford tells me, "because Stovall's such a nice guy." At its best, that's how it should work: Republicans and Democrats fight vigorously for election victories, then extend olive branches to govern. It may well be that Stovall will have to be the grown-up.

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