Leader Blues

Friday, June 09, 2006

SATURDAY EDITORIAL >> For local boys, on Tuesday

Arkansas will hold its general primaries Tuesday statewide in the case of the Democrats and in far-scattered precincts in the case of Republicans, and the voters are expected to be few and far between. The low turnout could be a record for the modern era. But we do not invalidate the results of an election simply because they reflect the consensus of very few. So let us pay some attention to these races even though the offices do not ordinarily engage us.

Democrats will choose their nominees for attorney general, lieutenant governor and state treasurer. The lieutenant governor presides over the state Senate in the few dozen hours a year that it is in session, at least when he wants to. The treasurer keeps a set of books on state expenditures and, with the guidance of a board and under the strictures of state law, invests idle government money. The attorney general is only the government’s chief legal counsel, but attorneys general the past 40 years have exercised important discretion in lots of affairs, and you are choosing someone who likely will be the next governor or U.S. senator or at least a powerful contender for one of those offices.

All three races are apt to be decided by a single factor, the loyalty of friends and neighbors. Three contiguous counties in northeast Arkansas have candidates in the races, a coincidence that serves all three of those candidates well. On the other hand, North Little Rock has a candidate for attorney general and another for lieutenant governor. Community or regional pride is a strong draw in statewide races, though it is a somewhat weaker factor in an urban area like Pulaski County. Mac Campbell, who is running for state treasurer, is the only candidate for a state office from outside either region, and he may stir some turnout in remote Boone County near the Missouri border. In the other 70 counties, the turnout is sure to be dismal.

We make recommendations in two of the races and, yes, they are next-door North Little Rock boys, but we are presumptuous enough to believe that they are also the best candidates.

As we observed before, the candidates for attorney general, Paul Suskie of North Little Rock and Dustin McDaniel of Jonesboro, are extraordinarily talented and promising young men. We can envision a Governor Suskie or a Governor McDaniel one day and harbor no fears.

Suskie is the North Little Rock city attorney, just back from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. City attorneys are a dime a dozen, but Suskie has been an inventive one. He developed ways of shutting down the community’s drug houses. Young McDaniel, of Jonesboro, was one of the most energetic members of the House of Representatives, where he had but one big misstep, but that a very big one. He sponsored the legislation that hands commercial real estate developers, including a big contributor to his campaign, a siphon hose into state public-school funds. That is the tax-increment-financing law.
We give Paul Suskie the edge.

It is not close in the lieutenant governor’s race. North Little Rock’s Bill Halter inflates his résumé by claiming earthshaking achievements as a functionary in the Office of Management and Budget in the Clinton White House and later as second in command at the Social Security Administration, and he plans all sorts of initiatives in an office that will not accommodate such ambitions, but both those attributes are second nature to politicians now. Oh, and he favors a lottery as a solution to education problems, a foolish but popular notion.

Still, Halter is progressive, bright and articulate, and he has run an above-board campaign.

His opponent, Sen. Tim Woodridge of Paragould, is a veteran state lawmaker, but that somewhat lengthy service does not particularly recommend him. A good benchmark for a legislator in 2006 is how he or she voted on legislation to take away the right of a municipal utility to protect the water supply for its citizens. Wooldridge voted to prevent Central Arkansas Water from protecting Lake Maumelle, the principal water source for all of us in central Arkansas, from the contamination of the development by million-dollar homes on the slopes above the water intake. He went with the developer, Deltic Timber Corp.

That is not the only instance that his judgment failed him acutely. In the House of Representatives he sponsored a bill to install public hangings on the courthouse squares of Arkansas’s 75 counties as the method of execution. Now he says he was not exactly serious, that he did it for a constituent who kept bugging him to do it. But the record shows that he fought hard and earnestly for it before a House committee killed it. This week, his campaign let loose a broadside against Halter, accusing him of being a friend of perverts and pornographers because internet surfers could access porn sites through a technology company on whose board Halter has sat.

Bill Halter is the clear choice for lieutenant governor.

For treasurer, we have no recommendation. Mac Campbell of Harrison is a personable and bright young man who served as a legislative assistant and tax counsel in the office of U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln. Like Halter, he makes his ordinary labor there sound groundbreaking, and he does boast about the work to repeal the inheritance tax on very wealthy families (several of which are supporting him financially).

His opponent, former state Rep. Martha Shoffner of Newport, inflates the pedestrian work that she did in the state auditor’s office, and her legislative tenure was hardly superlative. The Democrat-Gazette once labeled her as “furniture” in the House.
How do you choose between them? We can’t and we won’t.