Columns » John Brummett

When inertia is your lifeblood

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The state Democratic convention passed a rule Saturday saying that Dwayne Dobbins of North Little Rock may not run for state representative on the party's ticket.

The rule said that voters cannot be trusted to reject a guy once charged with felonious sexual advances toward a minor girl and who pulled a fast one to get on the ballot. Oh, all right. The rule didn't say that exactly. It merely implied as much.

The rule said that no one who has ever resigned from public office as part of a negotiated plea to get a reduction from a felony charge may run on the party's ticket. That meant you, Dwayne Dobbins, convicted misdemeanor harasser of a minor girl. And only you.

This sounds a tad like ex post facto — imposing a retroactive rule on Dobbins' eligibility well after he has filed in an otherwise eligible way. But it's probably not going to matter anyhow. Precedent from a state Supreme Court case a few years ago on the Republican side seems to say that a state party may not throw off its general election ballot an otherwise eligible nominee it doesn't like, at least without petitioning a court.

So now Dobbins is probably going to be the one to go to court and get his name back on the ballot. He's statutorily eligible, as a non-felon. It's not his fault that no one else filed on the Democratic ticket. Well, it kind of is. We'll get back to that.

The Democratic Party was mostly grandstanding and covering its behind by presuming to exclude him with this rule. From Mike Beebe down, state Democrats don't wish to be laden with this untoward association. But apparently it won't matter even if Dobbins stays on the ballot and wins, because the leadership of the state House of Representatives says it would ask the membership to vote not to seat him. Democrats don't trust leaving the matter to the voters. State representatives are prepared to defy the voters' decision. Our new state motto: the populus is not necessarily regnat.

Long story short: Dobbins was an elected member of the state House. A 17-year-old girl said she was in his home using a computer and that he fondled her breasts. The authorities charged him with a felony. He agreed to a lesser misdemeanor conviction and, as part of the negotiation, resigned from the state House.

His wife, Sharon Dobbins, won the legislative seat and served two terms. She was expected to come in on the morning of the filing deadline to re-up for an unopposed third term — unopposed re-elections being the norm for state legislative races in Arkansas. Instead, with time drawing short, she stepped back and husband Dwayne stepped up and filed. The Democrats faced a matter of minutes, as did the ever-hapless Republicans, to come up with another candidate. Neither could round up anybody. The buzzer sounded. Dobbins was the unopposed Democratic nominee for his wife's legislative seat, and the Republicans, per usual, didn't have anybody.

But the Green Party, the leftish environmentally conscious ones, came up later with a candidate. Now there's a third guy who's declared his intention to wage a write-in candidacy, but whose purposes are uncertain. That is to say that voters of North Little Rock would appear to be facing a choice — maybe two choices, actually, to this fellow who got charged with fondling the girl.

The most obvious solution would be to leave the decision to the voters of North Little Rock. They have the Green Party candidate, whom the Democratic Party could always formally endorse even with Dobbins still on the ballot; they may have this write-in candidate, and they have the convicted misdemeanor harasser who pulled a fast one to get on the ballot.

Some people refer to that kind of voter choice as representative democracy, which is what we supposedly have in this country. A Democrat was fretting the other day that it would do no good for Democrats to disavow Dobbins, leave him on the ballot and welcome votes for another candidate. He was afraid that Dobbins would win anyway on account of name identification, voter habit and having a “D” next to his name.

Such irony. That's largely how practically every public office-holder in Arkansas got there — by name ID, the nominal “D” by that name, incumbency, voter habit, lethargy, inertia.

 

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