Leader Blues

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

TOP STORY >>Inaugural ushers in a new era for state

By ANDREW DEMILLO
Associated Press writer

Mike Beebe of Searcy was sworn in as Arkansas’ 45th governor Tuesday, completing a journey that took him from tiny Amagon (Jackson County) to a 20-year career in the state Senate and finally the office to which he ultimately aspired.
In an inaugural address on the state Capitol steps, Beebe said he refused to believe that Arkansas, which faces on an ongoing battle over how it funds its 450,000-student school system, must continually face economic and educational hardships.
“I refuse to accept that hard times or perennial problems are our lot in life,” Beebe said. “We Arkansans are imbued with a spirit of persistent hope.”

Beebe, a Democrat, offered few specifics on his policy proposals — those are to come Wednesday, he said — but he said his term will mark a new course for the state. “Where others have seen obstacles, let us see a path to a new day, a new way in the history of this state we love,” Beebe said. “Where others have witnessed history repeating itself, let us seize our opportunities and create a new awakening to the possibilities of change and the promise of success in our state now, today.”

Beebe, 60, had never had a political opponent until last year’s race for governor and was a near-sure bet for a second term as attorney general, but in 2005 entered the contest to replace Republican Mike Huckabee in the governor’s office. In a brief address to the Arkansas House and Senate on Tuesday, Beebe recalled sitting in the well of the House for past inaugurations and enjoying himself. “It’s fun on this end, too,” Beebe said. And he reminded legislators that it would be time to work Wednesday.

“We are in this together. Rise or fall, win or lose — we are in this together,” Beebe said. “Tomorrow we begin that process to do all we can do to improve the quality of life for all our people.” Beebe grew up in Newport, but he and his mother lived in various cities, including Chicago, Detroit and St. Louis before he reached high school. He graduated from Arkansas State University, paying for his education with loans, summer jobs and part-time work. He has a law degree from the University of Arkansas.

In the days following his victory over Republican Asa Hutchinson in the November election, Beebe repeatedly has referred to himself as a partner with the Legislature. But as he approached his Tuesday inauguration, he began to refer to that relationship as a partnership, with leadership. “I have to respect those co-equal branches, but I also have to recognize that as chief executive of the state I have an additional responsibility above being a partner,” Beebe said in an interview before his inauguration. “I have to provide leadership.”

Legislators have touted Beebe’s long experience with state government, dating to his 20 years as a state senator before he was elected attorney general in 2002. Though he was still frequently seen around the Capitol as attorney general, Beebe’s offices were located in a separate office building downtown. Beebe has indicated he won’t be a stranger in the halls during the session but says he may have to distance himself at times. “I’m sure we’ll have fights. I’m sure we’ll have things we’ll disagree on,” Beebe said. “The key is to do it with civility and do it professionally and do it with an attitude of not burning your bridges.”