Leader Blues

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

EDITORIAL >> David vs. Goliath

It was David vs. Goliath in the contest for speaker of the state House of Representatives this week, but this time the big guys beat the little guys.

The most powerful lobbyists lined up behind Rep. Benny Petrus, D-Stuttgart, in his race against Rep. Will Bond, D-Jacksonville, which is why old-style politics won out: But hive him credit, Petrus built a coalition that included support from both parties and the backing of black legislators, many of whom received campaign contributions from Petrus. Talk about old-style politics.

Idealistic young Will Bond may have reminded you of Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” as the Jacksonville lawmaker addressed his colleagues before the vote, telling them, “We don’t want special interests to tell us what’s good for Arkansas,” but his plea fell mostly on deaf ears. Petrus won, 58-42.

Several members who told Bond they were voting for him didn’t really mean it or changed their minds in the last minute. Petrus’ people were making more deals than Bob Barker makes on “The Price Is Right.” Legislators may have been promised chairmanships and plenty of pork for the folks back home, which shouldn’t shock anyone, but it still amazes us how much horse trading went on behind closed doors. It’s a good thing members of Boys and Girls State weren’t there.

It was disappointing to see Bond, the far more competent candidate, lose to an opponent who has been especially close to Deltic Timber, which tried but failed last year to get the House to allow a fancy housing development at Lake Maumelle. Bond’s Government Affairs Committee killed the Deltic proposal in committee.

With Petrus in charge next year, Deltic seems likely to try again and will probably succeed unless the courts stop the development.
Our state representatives decided they did not want an independent young Democrat as their speaker, a man who would protect the people’s interests and not the polluters. The House instead elected a politician who’s been cozy with lobbyists and will likely do their bidding when the Legislature meets in regular session next year.

The winds of change are in the air in Washington, but not in Little Rock. Rep. Tom Delay has been stripped of his powers in our nation’s capital, but our legislators are still sticking with politics-as-usual.

If war is the continuation of politics by other means, as Clausewitz said, then the speaker’s race was a form of warfare against the people, definitely politics at its rawest. Even the U.S. House of Representatives is trying to reform itself, but not our Ledge. To paraphrase Chicago’s Paddy Bauer, Arkansas ain’t ready for reform.