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With rare exception, Arkansas loves its governors and would let them serve for lifetimes if the law allowed.

I was telling that the other day to Jared Henderson. I was trying to help the talented young Democrat--who owes it to the state to run again, and then again--feel better about losing two-to-one to Asa Hutchinson.

There was the anomaly of 1980-82 when voters got mad at young Bill Clinton for being too big for his britches, then put him, chastened, back in office two years later. Then there was Jim Guy Tucker's misfortune, which was having done something pre-governorship in private business from which Ken Starr was able to contrive a criminal case, sustaining his special prosecutor's assignment while he waited for Bill Clinton to have sexual relations with that woman and lie about it, which was inevitable.

Otherwise, over recent decades, it's been Gov. Mike Huckabee for 10 years, owing to an extra stint upon Tucker's misfortune; Mike Beebe for the maximum eight years, and Asa Hutchinson going on eight.

We see these governors up close. They have us out to the Governor's Mansion for special events. They manage to avoid the stigmatizing partisan positions besetting politicians in federal representative roles. The state becomes a glorified high school and the governors the winners in who's who as most popular. In a state historically treating politics as entertainment, governors function as the emcees of the variety shows and the fathers who know best.

So, on Monday night in Little Rock, a few hundred of us gathered for a governors' fest. The Arkansas Center for Health Improvement celebrated 20 years of public health advocacy by joining with the Clinton School to present Huckabee and Beebe chatting about state health policy during their governorships spanning most of those 20 years.

Hutchinson made introductory remarks and then sat through the program.

Tucker was graciously in the audience. He's always graciously in the audience. He's never on stage where he ought to be. He gets left out, I guess, because of the Starr debacle.

(Once, in putting together a program for the Butler Center that I would moderate on the formative 1970s in Arkansas politics, I picked a stellar four-member panel. Early in the discussion, I glanced out at the capacity crowd at Ron Robinson Theater and saw the attentive and smiling Tucker, an attorney general, congressman and narrowly losing U.S. Senate candidate during that decade, and thought, "Oh, dear, I'm the one who did it to him this time," relegating him to the dreaded last paragraph: "Also in the room was ..."

So, about the Huckabee-Beebe chat: I put on Twitter as it began that, if they did it right, I'd get three or four columns out of it. As it happens, I'm getting only this one, and most of it is already written without any mention of their largely inconsequential discussion.

They were typically bipartisan, mutually respectful--high-minded in part and yarn-prone in the other part. We do love our governors' old war stories, the more apocryphal and embellished the better.

Two substantive things I took away:

• I was reminded of how thoroughly pragmatic and moderate, even progressive, Huckabee's policies as governor were, even as his rhetoric was often hyperbolic and incendiary. He told me afterward that the governor's job is to solve problems and that solving problems is a conservative undertaking. Expanding health insurance and raising taxes for roads and schools --ask a garden-variety conservative if those are conservative notions. And I asked Huckabee if he would have advocated embracing Medicaid expansion had he been governor. He said probably. He always was better in policy crunch time than in his right-wing bloviation when out of office, as now, on Twitter, which he told me he used for personal amusement to rile people, a perversity I understand by sharing.

• Dr. Joe Thompson, the director of ACHI and moderator, brought up the elephant in the room: Asa's controversial and probably legally doomed work requirement for Medicaid expansion recipients. Beebe, ever pragmatic and loath to criticize Asa sitting in the audience, praised Hutchinson for saving Medicaid expansion. Beebe said he embraced the need to accept imperfection in order to advance a worthy program. The key is not denying needed care unfairly. In other words, he disposed of the delicate subject without saying anything, a courtesy appropriate to the evening.

When David Pryor and Dale Bumpers were doing an event like this, as they often did, Pryor liked to refer to it as "The Antique Road Show." With Dale departed and David recovering from a stroke, the Arkansas feel-good torch may have been passed to these more recent former governors. Huckabee and Beebe dispatched their debut only sufficiently, it being their first gig and with an unrefined shtick.

I recommend booking them for your next convention, if you can get Huckabee off Twitter and Beebe off the golf course.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 12/06/2018

Print Headline: Our beloved governors

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