Leader Blues

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

EDITORIAL>>Why Beebe is the choice

For men with such disparate careers and political philosophies, Mike Beebe and Asa Hutchinson hold remarkably similar views on the issues that they have chosen to address, except, that is, the other’s character and record. Both make the ritual promise to improve education but are short on specifics. Both oppose more consolidation of small school districts.

Hutchinson says he would let tiny schools that cannot meet state standards slide by and Beebe says he would not. That is as close to a major difference as the candidates for governor have had, but it really is not that great. If Hutchinson succeeded, in the next few years a half-dozen tiny high schools that would otherwise have to close would stay open. Hutchinson hoped that his promise to stand in the schoolhouse door in places like Paron would drive rural voters to the polls to vote for him, but he badly miscalculated. Most rural voters already live in consolidated school districts and have for half a century.

Both would sign laws preventing gay and lesbian couples from serving as foster parents for abused and troubled children.
The only difference is that Hutchinson seeks to make a big issue of it and Beebe does not. If gay foster parenting were among the 100 most serious issues facing the state, these would be extraordinarily good times.

Both would remove the sales tax on groceries. Hutchinson first said it was not on his agenda, but when Beebe said he would ask the legislature to phase out the tax over several years so that state services would not be interrupted by the sudden slump in revenues, Hutchinson joined the chase.

He said he would remove all the tax instantly even if it meant a budget crisis. He would transfer surplus funds to the operating budgets. But lawmakers are not apt to go along with that dangerous remedy. That brings us to one of three reasons that Beebe, not Hutchinson, should be governor.

He is temperate, thoughtful and as close to non-partisan as a lifelong Democrat or Republican is apt to be. As the leader in the state Senate, he carried much of Gov. Huckabee’s program for him, including the expansion of Medicaid to cover hundreds of thousands of children, Huckabee’s proudest achievement.

He worked closely with Republican legislators so that in the past week we had the spectacle of Republican lawmakers defending Beebe against the attacks of their own standard-bearer. Second, on the basis of knowledge and experience the state may never have had a better-qualified candidate for governor. He has been the legislature’s acknowledged expert on government operations and budgets. Hutchinson’s practice has been in spendthrift Washington, where he helped the Bush administration produce the biggest deficits in history.

He will have to learn that you can’t budget that way in Arkansas. Campaigns usually tell us little about what a man will do after he’s elected, but they do tell us how he will react when his career is on the line. Beebe’s campaign has been overly cautious and safe to the point of boredom but short on demagoguery and personal attack. That has never described an Asa Hutchinson campaign.

Some will remember Hutchinson’s nasty attacks on the character of Dale Bumpers and Winston Bryant in two losing statewide campaigns. Last week, his campaign was linking Beebe with the corruption of state Sen. Nick Wilson, who spent time in the federal penitentiary for his self-dealing with a state ad-litem program for children.

Hutchinson implied that Beebe and Wilson were cronies. Even Hutchinson’s brother-in-law, who served with Beebe in the Senate, had to dispute that. Nick Wilson was the only enemy Beebe ever made in the legislature.

They were implacable foes. Wilson contemptuously referred to Beebe and his friend, Sen. Morril Harriman of Van Buren, as “the young golfers.” Beebe and Vic Snyder, a state senator then and now congressman, led the way in curtailing Wilson’s power in the ’90s. Forget their narrow little arguments over schools and taxes. On things that matter much more, Mike Beebe is the choice.