Swooning for the sassy

Posted: January 4, 2018 at 2:53 a.m.

We've got hold of something interesting in Arkansas in a Republican gubernatorial primary in May.

We will find out if, by morphing Sarah Palin, Tommy Robinson and Ted Nugent, you can give Gov. Asa Hutchinson an affliction in his re-nomination quest, maybe a modified case of cat-scratch fever.

That dynamic combination is in the person of Jan Morgan. She calls herself the "Gun Goddess" and boasts on her website that she has been called the first lady of the Second Amendment. She's pictured on that site in heels sometimes and boots sometimes and guns always.

She owns and operates a gun range in Hot Springs that she has declared a Muslim-free zone. She is a licensed gun-use instructor.

But more to the stylistic point, she is trained from years in TV media in Texas as a mass communicator. She travels the country talking guns-galore at rallies. She goes on national right-wing talk shows for take-no-prisoners commentaries.

She seems for all the world to be a Steve Bannon recruit to bedevil an establishment Republican, which Hutchinson consummately is.

He's been a Republican federal prosecutor, a Republican congressman, a Republican impeachment prosecutor, a top officer in the Bush the Second administration and now a Republican governor of Arkansas trying, among other things, to save Medicaid expansion with conservative touches.

What Asa did that really riled the Gun Goddess was hold out for a couple of exceptions on that Charlie Collins-NRA bill to provide that, with a little more concealed-carry training, you could take your gun any danged place you wanted in Arkansas.

Morgan stormed into a legislative committee meeting to testify with reasonably articulate ridicule of Hutchinson. She got called down by establishment Republicans on that legislative committee for making threats, at which point she declared, of course, that she wasn't threatening, but promising.

At a New Year's Eve party of her hosting, she announced that she is running against Hutchinson. She said she aims to protect gun rights, kill Medicaid expansion, restore health care to a service rather than treat it as a right and cut taxes more than the small, incremental way Asa is so silly to brag about.

Oh, and she says she'll cut out Sharia law in Arkansas. She ripped into Asa for resisting a bill to stop it.

What the governor did last year was say that he didn't see any need for a bill preserving American law over Sharia law in Arkansas because he'd practiced a lot of law in the state and had never found himself in a courtroom where things were getting decided on any Sharia basis.

Basically, this is the situation: Hutchinson is conservative, of course. But he is trying to govern in a pragmatic way that doesn't make Arkansas appear to national and international business prospects as a primitive, backward place.

If Sharia law is not a problem in Arkansas, which it isn't, then Hutchinson sees no need, but only folly, in inviting a headline in the New York Times about Arkansas putting a needless quietus on a non-existing Muslim takeover of her courts.

Morgan beholds that and says either you favor Americans over Muslims or you don't, and that she, by danged, does.

This woman will simply prove by style impossible to ignore at the level she deserves by substance.

What might it all mean?

Noise, mainly. But veteran Arkansas political observer Skip Rutherford, dean of the Clinton School, felt obliged to post an ominous little New Year's Eve tweet.

It was that primary opponents from what I'd call the extreme or eccentric right, while producing no direct upsets, had built a little precedent in Arkansas for portending seismic occurrences.

In 1956, segregationist Justice Jim Johnson ran against then-Gov. Orval Faubus in the primary and perhaps so unnerved Faubus in his losing percentage that Faubus went out and fomented international disgrace for Arkansas the next fall at Little Rock Central High School.

In 1980, a retired turkey farmer who once suggested fixing two problems at once by filling potholes with hazardous waste--he was named Monroe Schwarzlose--ran against young national Democratic phenom Bill Clinton, who was seeking re-nomination as governor. Schwarzlose, utterly non-serious as a candidate, got a striking 31 percent.

That November, Clinton became the youngest ex-governor in the nation when upset by Republican Frank White.

I noticed that Rutherford's post was retweeted or liked by a couple of leading Arkansas Democrats no doubt dreaming of a lightning strike--of the Gun Goddess getting so many votes in May that Hutchinson would be weakened into a vulnerable state for the Democratic candidate, Jared Henderson, probably, in November.

I'm not quite ready to say that Arkansas Democrats ought to be worried instead about running against her in November.

But I'm telling you one thing: Arkansas has an established hankering for the political grotesque and a longtime tendency to swoon before the sassy demagogue.

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John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was inducted into the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame in 2014. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 01/04/2018