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An insurgency in the making

Posted: June 19, 2013 at 5 a.m.

Monday night I went to Conway, where I started writing about politics nearly 40 years ago, to speak at a fundraising gathering for the Faulkner County Democratic Party.

This took place at one of those dry-county restaurants where you can get an adult beverage, which a Faulkner County Democrat probably needs.

The first thing I explained was that I am not a Democrat. Instead I am a newspaper columnist who endeavors to tell the truth. Thus I often sound like a Democrat.

About this time last year, I went to Conway to roast my friend Gilbert Baker, who was nearing term limits as a Republican state senator. I hadn’t really thought about the fact—or even been informed, as best I recall—that I was participating in raising money for local Republican candidates.

One of them, named Jason Rapert, was sitting at the other end of the head table. He had a guitar with him.

So I was doing penance last night. It was not nearly sufficient atonement for that particular transgression, but it was something.

I told the Faulkner County Democrats that their party has one underlying positive theme in its favor. It believes in government and usually tries to make government work.

Generally, Republicans are trying to make a self-fulfilling prophecy of their rhetoric that government is never the solution, but always the problem. They are pledging their greater allegiance to business, church and personal independence. Government is inherently oppressive and wasteful, they think.

Look down the road from Conway to Mayflower.

The Republican congressman, Tim Griffin, responded to environmental pollution by defending the polluter. He served first his party’s underlying philosophy that government regulation is bad and that unfettered commerce—even to include the unimpeded flow of goo onto yards and into fishing coves—is good.

Conversely, a Democratic attorney general took a different tack. It is that government’s job is to be active, even litigious, to help the little people against the giant corporation.

Conway Mayor Tab Townsell, who says he will not seek another term and can envision a scenario in which he doesn’t serve out the current one, was in the audience. So I remarked that a 14-year veteran of making government work as mayor of a booming city would be a worthy Democratic challenger to Griffin.

Townsell seemed pleased. He’s thinking about it, actually.

Then I offered another close-to-home example of Democratic governing superiority: In 2011, that same attorney general was advising the Legislature that certain anti-abortion bills were constitutionally dubious. It is not good government to break government law.

So it was a Democratic state representative from Conway, Linda Tyler, acting as chairman of the House Public Health Committee, who managed to get those bills round-filed. Thus she saved the state the futility and expense of having to defend in court the irresponsible enactment of invalid laws.

Then Tyler ran for the state Senate and lost 54-46 to Rapert. Then he made the centerpiece of his legislating a brazenly unconstitutional law to forbid abortion as early as 12 weeks—far earlier than anything in case law that might reasonably be argued as permissible.

No Democratic majority or chairman was there to stop it.

A federal judge has imposed a preliminary injunction on implementation of the measure. A permanent injunction and taxpayer responsibility for opposing attorney fees await inevitably.

And, yes, Tyler was in the audience Tuesday night. So I called her out and said: “You need a rematch.”

She seemed not displeased. She’s thinking about it.

Pro-choice women from across the state area ready themselves to move to Conway to help her take on again the modern-day Paul Van Dalsem.

(For the young: Van Dalsem was a state legislative kingpin defeated in the ’60s after he made a fateful remarking about keeping women barefoot and pregnant.)

As always, we have the glaring exception to the rule of Democrats making government work and Republicans not: A few responsible state legislative Republicans distinguished themselves in the recent session by embracing the private option to Medicaid expansion.

But here is the telling circumstance on that: These Republican architects of the private option could never have succeeded without the leadership of a Democratic governor whose essence is making government work, nor without the expertise of the Democratic governor’s human services officials, nor without unanimous Democratic legislative support.

Their problem was bringing to reason a sufficient smattering from their own party.

Democrats ought to embrace this theme: Three Republicans thought of it, but we passed it.

Faulkner County’s curious condition is that, in tilting to Republicanism—and while Conway itself remains a place where a good Democratic candidate has a fighting chance—it has begun electing not merely Republicans, but extremist ones.

Rapert is actually the relative liberal in the county’s Republican legislative delegation. He voted for the private option and sponsored a credible bill for reforms in the state treasurer’s office.

Two local state House members—the Meeks brothers, Stephen of Greenbrier and David of Conway—are nonserious puppets of a strong local Tea Party movement that objects to government altogether.

So Faulkner County Democrats have the foundation for an insurgency: They have three choice targets to rally against. It’s the kind of political passion that can stir political energy and produce political gains.

John Brummett’s column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. E-mail him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his blog at brummett.arkansasonline.com, or his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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