Gov. Jim Guy Tucker had to quit the job he says he loved Monday. But unfortunately his bitterness overwhelmed him and did not go quietly.
Five minutes before Lt. Gov. Mike Huckabee was to be sworn in, Tucker refused to resign as he had promised when he was convicted of mail fraud and conspiracy charges that date back a decade ago when he was a private businessman. Four hours later he relented but not before ruining his reputation.
This is what Jim Guy Tucker will always be remembered for. And it's a shame because he was a good governor--the best in my opinion since Dale Bumpers. He was giving us sound fiscal management, better schools and long-needed capital improvements when his term was interrupted by a Republican witch-hunt led by Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr. The only reason Jim Guy Tucker was prosecuted was to provide Starr at least one triumph in his unsuccessful, two-year, $14 million crusade to find enough evidence to indict President Clinton.
Anyway, we now have a new governor, a Republican, and I think that's good; my only complaint is the way he got the job. But we need to create a real two-party system in Arkansas, and the only way to do it is to have Republican governors more often than we're doing it--three times in 96 years.
So far Gov. Mike Huckabee has said all the right things. Amid Monday's chaos he was perfectly cool--patient when he should have been but firm when necessary. So while we admire his words, we are now waiting to see his actions. Will he be able to resist the demands of the ultra-conservative, one-issue Republicans who control the Arkansas Republican Party and would like to make Arkansas a theocracy?
Frank White, the last Republican governor we had, could not. To his credit he made some reforms and certainly gave people access to government who never had it before. But he appointed Orval Faubus, the old segregationist, to a high office, alienating all black citizens, and he signed (without reading) a bill that required the teaching of creation science in the schools.
Monday's change of governors was just one more of the strange, unprecedented events that have happened recently in Arkansas.
But Arkansans have learned from them. Most of us will acknowledge that being the last of the one-party states has not been good for Arkansas and leads to things like the "piggy bank" David Hale was operating. And, to the credit of Governor Tucker and the legislature, where only 19 of the 135 members are Republicans, this year the state started paying for party primaries so that Republicans can vote as easily as Democrats and in the same precincts.
But Arkansans also have some questions that all Americans should consider in light of our experience: Should the country insist on zero-tolerance for wrongdoing and even mistakes by politicians when we don't hold other professions to that standard? Doesn't this discourage a lot of well-qualified people from running for public office?
And is it really a good idea to have independent counsels and give them unlimited resources, time and authority to roam the country investigating people rather than crimes? Won't this make our government more partisan than it already is?
Print headline: "The rough road to two-party rule" July 19, 1996.