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A recent poll was conducted in the Second Congressional District to test whether state Rep. Clarke Tucker, rising Harvard-educated Democratic lawyer of Little Rock, might pose a credible challenge this year to the re-election of U.S. Rep. French Hill.

It is customary for prospective candidates possessed of such polling data to keep the numbers to themselves but say publicly that the numbers are encouraging--or at least not discouraging. That's all a source close to Tucker would say last week, and Tucker wasn't saying at all.

I prefer independent polls released by news organizations. I want to see methodologies and sample data and crosstabs.

But I'll tell you this much purely anecdotally, absent any data: Before the poll, Tucker was telling people he was pondering a race for Congress. After the poll, he was telling people he was strongly considering that run.

I suspect he trails Hill in the poll, but not by light years, and that the survey shows a vulnerability for Hill. The weakness probably is--and sure enough ought to be--Hill's vote to abolish Obamacare and replace it only in part with a plan so draconian that even Donald Trump, after initially celebrating its passage because it let him claim victory, called mean.

It was indeed mean. It would have done away with Medicaid expansion. It would have replaced premium subsidies for low-income persons with tax credits calculated more on age than income. It would have let states charge more for pre-existing conditions and merely authorized them to set up risk pools to help with the prohibitive costs for diseased and dying people that would ensue.

House minions like Hill--and the rest of the Arkansas delegation--passed the bill only to try to make Trump happy while understanding that the Senate was a more deliberative body that would pass something better or even, as it happened, nothing.

Trump remains popular in Arkansas. Hill remains favored for re-election in the 2nd District, largely owing to his allegiance to Trump in the district's raging Republican counties outside the Democratic core of Pulaski, meaning Saline, Faulkner and White.

But Pulaski County always gives a Democrat an outside shot in the 2nd District. Tucker would be especially strong in Pulaski, hailing as he does from a long-prominent Little Rock family in which his grandfather was a moderate non-segregationist school board member in 1957 and his father is a leading civic figure and downtown Little Rock developer in the Moses-Tucker firm.

Tucker graduated from Harvard where he was student president of the Kennedy School of Government. He graduated from the University of Arkansas Law School where he was editor of the law review.

He got elected to the state House of Representatives in 2014 in a district narrowly extending from central Little Rock to the western reaches of the county. He has distinguished himself as a legislator--if one can distinguish oneself by losing battles, which one assuredly can--by fighting for some manner of disclosure of electioneering expenditures otherwise unlimited under the Citizens United ruling.

Republican legislators, protecting identities of donors to their favored benefactor organizations, rebuffed Tucker on every scale-back amendment, to the point of apologizing to him in an amused way during a committee meeting.

He has managed along the way to sponsor or co-sponsor a few bills that became law.

Then, a few months ago, Tucker went to the doctor because of troubling symptoms and learned that he, at age 36, with two grade-school children, had bladder cancer. Long and frightful story short: The cancer was removed entirely with surgery; Tucker has now passed the first of what will be quarterly screenings, and he feels fine. The weight loss is from his post-cancer attention to a healthy diet.

The experience, he says, has made even more intense his commitment to his children's future, which, as a public policy person, he ties in great measure to public service.

Democrats have two fine congressional challengers to Hill already. Paul Spencer is a Catholic High teacher who has distinguished himself in recent years pushing for ethics reform initiatives. Gwendolyn Combs is a school teacher active as a leader in local Trump resistance and women's protests.

Spencer and Combs would be required to prove themselves for the kind of community mobilization and local funding that Tucker would reap instantly.

If Arkansas is to participate at all this year in a midterm Democratic rally bubbling out of Trump resistance, then it would be against Hill in the 2nd District. Tucker would be the best-positioned local agent.

That's not to say Spencer and Combs couldn't be those agents. But there's probably a reason they aren't raising more money. It's that many Pulaski County Democrats are waiting on Tucker.

He'll provide an answer early in the new year, I'm told.


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 Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 12/31/2017

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