Leader Blues

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

TOP STORY >>Ready to work with governor

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

For the first time since 1941, when Jack-sonville’s Homer Adkins was elected governor, a central Arkansan from north of the Arkansas River took the oath of office Tuesday as the state’s top officer. That’s good news, not just for the White County-area residents Mike Beebe represented as a state senator for 16 years, but for all Arkansas residents, according to state Sen. John Paul Capps, D-Searcy. Beebe, born in Jackson County, grew up in several states before settling in Searcy to practice law in 1972. Although Sen. Dist. 29 has been redrawn and now includes Jacksonville, Capps today represents many of the same people once represented by Beebe.

“I was thinking this morning what a wonderful opportunity this is to come together and do some great things for the state,” Capps said. “He has the type of personality that embraces people and brings them in,” said Capps, who was speaker of the house when Beebe was first elected in 1983. “The old hands know, and the new ones will quickly understand.”

“We’re going to see so much difference it will be remarkable. He won’t be petty or vindictive, and won’t hold grudges,” said Capps alluding to former Gov. Mike Huckabee’s notoriously thin skin. “I’m looking forward to getting away from the bickering in the capitol and getting back to civility and pure honest debate,” Capps said. “Beebe will be an excellent ambassador for the state.” “We worked together on the same issues as related to our districts and people,” the senator continued. “We had a fine, cordial working relationship. We were good friends. It was a pleasure to work together.
Capps said he thinks Beebe always had his eye on higher office, but he didn’t let that dominate what he was doing.
He said Beebe, like former Gov. Bill Clinton, will be a hands-on policy wonk, walking the halls, sitting in committee meetings and working the room.

The senator said he looked forward to working with Beebe on issues like removing the state grocery tax, improving education and higher education in the state, prisons, human services. The way legislators appropriate money from the General Improvement Fund, which has typically been used to fund local projects around the state, will also be affected by a court decision last year that labeled as unconstitutional the $400,000 provided to Bigelow for street improvements. The street money, justices said, violated the Arkansas Constitution’s ban on state funding for strictly local projects. Former state Rep. Mike Wilson of Jacksonville, who had challenged the Bigelow funding and other projects, said he believed the ruling would end the practice of funding local projects through the General Improvement Fund.

“They blew $52 million two years ago,” Wilson said. “They won’t be able to do that any more.” Lawmakers have spent weeks since the Dec. 14 ruling reviewing what projects would be considered appropriate by the court, and ways to change the system to avoid money going to strictly local projects. Incoming Senate President Jack Critcher, D-Batesville, has said legislators will have to keep that ruling in mind when looking at the fund. “I think they’ll ask themselves if it’s going to pass muster with the court now,” Critcher said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.