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Arkansas against the grain

Posted: November 7, 2012 at 5:13 a.m.

So there you have it: Arkansas goes Republican just in time for the Republicans to collapse nationally.

John Brummett is blogging daily online.

At this 11 p.m. writing, it is clear that all four congressional seats in Arkansas will be Republican-held next year.

Meantime, the GOP likely is making state history. From incomplete returns, Republicans appeared to be taking control of the Legislature for the first time since Reconstruction.

Nationally, Mitt Romney might yet win the popular vote, though the West Coast was fast eroding his margin. But Barack Obama bested him in swing state after swing state—where the candidates actually campaigned head-to-head—by winning non-Cuban Latinos and other minorities, young people and Midwestern working people.

Democrats have now won four of the last six presidential races, and one of the losses was in great dispute. And the electorate is steadily changing in a way that favors Democrats into the future, when, they say, even Texas will turn blue-ish with Hispanic population growth.

The bigger story close to home—the one that will affect your life more directly—is the apparent Republican takeover of the state Legislature.

In fact, Obama's victory means he'll still be in office in two years and probably dragging down Arkansas Democrats—Dustin McDaniel, say, in a gubernatorial bid.

The Arkansas legislative development compels me to tell you what it all means.

You need to learn two names. Michael Lamoureux. Davy Carter.

These are young Republican legislators from conservative regions that are exurban to Greater Little Rock, if, that is, you'll permit me to extend Little Rock's extra-urban area a bit beyond logic and 70 miles to Russellville.

Lamoureux is a lawyer there in Russellville who now likely will become president pro tem of the state Senate.

Carter lives in Cabot and is a lawyer and banker. He already was chairman of the now-pivotal House Revenue and Taxation Committee, having earned enough bipartisan respect in his first House term to earn Democratic Speaker Robert Moore's selection to this chairmanship two years ago.

I'll not tell you which, so that both may assert plausible viability. But Gov. Mike Beebe told me once that one of them "reminds me of me."

That is a high compliment from the governor.

He means accomplished in legislating even as a young man, given to pragmatism and consensus and reason and generally inclined toward constructive policy as much as partisan political positioning.

What I'm saying is that a state legislative session now becomes an uncommonly contentious exercise in which the three-fourths majority vote for passing appropriations will necessitate new and significant fractions of bipartisan consensus.

And I'm saying the apparent new Republican majorities will be infested by extreme-right zealots—anti-Obamists benefitting from Koch brothers' help—who will not be inclined to compromise.

And I'm saying there is but one chance for a bridge spanning the Republican right flank and the centrist Democratic governor. It is a bridge upon which accommodations could be made on taxes and schools and Medicaid in ways that would advance conservative ideology sufficiently while also protecting moderate executive-branch practice sufficiently.

That chance is wrapped up in those two young men, Lamoureux and Carter. They must be conservative enough for their right flank and moderate enough to engage the governor productively. They must be deft enough not to lose one side whenever they oblige the other.

Lamoureux strikes me as the kind of guy who'll feed red meat to the right wing in his public pronouncements, then stroll to the governor's office to explain that he perhaps spoke indiscriminately and wishes to apologize.

Carter seems a bit more straight-up.

When one of those right-wing zealots on the Republican legislative slate said something uncommonly vile a few weeks ago, Carter actually took to Twitter to endorse the Democratic opponent.

Then there was this: We have the newly re-elected Republican state senator from somewhere between Conway and Bigelow. I refer to the Swaggartian showboat named Jason Rapert.

Rapert was testifying one day a year or so ago for a loony bill to charge no income taxes to anybody living in the Delta or other heavily impoverished regions. This would have relieved poor people of income taxes they weren't paying anyway and otherwise given an unfair tax break to some Arkansans but not others in similar or identical situations.

It was a grandstand play of faux earnestness.

Carter, chairing the Revenue and Tax Committee, rebuffed Rapert rather rudely.

He said, look, this proposed exemption of yours is bigger than the rule. In that case, we need to be thinking about the rule and not exceptions.

Alas, I suspect we'll be thinking about the rule with credible Republican proposals next year to cut income taxes instead of obliging Beebe's vow to voters to keeping drawing down the sales tax on food. We can't afford both.

That's the kind of complication I'm counting on Lamoureux and Carter to work out as Arkansas goes, as ever, against the national grain.

John Brummett’s column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his blog at brummett.arkansasonline.com.

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