Leader Blues

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

EDITORIALS>>Beebe takes center stage

Mike Huckabee was governor for 10 ½ years, the third longest tenure in Arkansas’s 170-year history, and it seemed even longer. Mike Beebe took the oath Tuesday and gave the impression that whether he serves for four or eight years it will seem much shorter. Absent were the stentorian tones, the lavish rhetoric and, tripping off the glib tongue, all those words, words, words that we have come to expect on these grand occasions, and not-so-grand occasions. Beebe took the oath officially before assembled lawmakers in the House chamber, uttered a few words of thanks to supporters and encouragement to legislators, nearly every one of whom it appeared were personal friends, gave the thumbs-up a few times and led his wife away.

But outside for the public ceremony an hour later, under a fierce midday sun and surrounded by flapping bunting and flags, choirs, trumpets and a throng of supporters, Beebe rose to, well, the same heights. Reading from a script, he raced through the ritual calls for everyone to strive together to overcome old unscalable problems, invoked a little John F. Kennedy rhetoric, waved and said let’s go to work. Crowds are tuned to respond to even tentative applause lines on these occasions, but Beebe never gave this crowd a chance. Ten minutes and he was through. With Mike Beebe, you knew that it was not stage fright or an inability to grasp the dynamics of the occasion.

He knew what he was doing. As a senator for 20 years, he had heard enough good ceremonial speeches. He may have simply recognized his own limitations — he is not a stem-winding orator — and chosen not to be judged inferior by trying to imitate Clinton, Bumpers, Tucker or Huckabee. We think it was more calculated than that. Mike Beebe is not going to be a showman but a doer, and he wanted to get that across. He did, perfectly. His one theme was that distinct change was possible and that it was sure enough coming. A lot less bloviating and more hard work is the first welcome signpost of change.

We like this administration already. Beebe said his legislation would begin to pour into the Senate and House today and he expected all of them to dive into the gritty work of making prudent budgets and effective laws on the first day. If knowledge is power, Beebe comes as the best prepared for leadership in our time. He knows the Constitution and laws and for two decades he put together every major bipartisan piece of legislation. Mike Huckabee was the master of the gibe and the flout; Mike Beebe is the master of the hug and the squeezed elbow. He won’t be whining about how the Republicans are mistreating him. They won’t be.

Beebe is not the first new governor to invoke togetherness as the chief striving of his administration. In fact, we cannot think of a one who skipped that virtue as far back as the last governor from the northern metropolitan area, Homer M. “Holy Homer” Adkins, who was reared on a farm near Jacksonville. Gov. Adkins, a Klansman, was not quite so inclusive in practice. He fought to keep blacks from voting in Democratic primaries.

The symbolism was starkly different Tuesday. The master of ceremonies was the black civil rights lawyer Richard Mays of Little Rock, and the inaugural had an overwhelmingly African-American hue, from the invocation to the musicians.
In his short tug at bombast, Beebe said he would try to strike down barriers to everyone and he called for people to join hands to “protect the vulnerable and empower the powerless.”

“Join me in this journey,” he said. “We have a future to create. We will do it together.” Other than ratcheting down the state’s 6 percent sales tax on groceries over the next several years, we do not have a clue yet what he expects to do help everybody reach their dreams. But we do think he means it. For now, that is change enough.