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Springdale High School now sits squarely within the state House district of a Democratic state representative-elect.

Departing Rep. Jeff Williams, R-Springdale, is untouched by scandal. He took very, very good care of that district. His success at getting ArKids First health coverage for Marshallese children, for instance, is merely his best example of his legislative heavy lifting. The fact he accomplished it in his first term only makes that feat more impressive.

Therefore, Rep.-elect Megan Godfrey's win on Tuesday is living proof that an incumbent, unwounded, uncontroversial and effective Republican can be defeated in Northwest Arkansas outside of Fayetteville.

The margin was small. Voter registration within the relatively low-income, largely immigrant population of District 89 is low. The turnout reflected that. All of that is true. None of it matters. A Democratic newcomer won. A worthy Republican with a wide range of experience in and out of public life lost.

A Democratic win in District 89 was never going to be a blowout. Winning at all took hard work, a well-thought out and executed plan, just the right candidate and dedicated volunteers. Like any success, it also took daring. A cold calculation would have shown a win was possible but never likely.

I wrote last week that Arkansas is Republican high ground. The "blue wave" would have to be a Noah's flood to put this state underwater. This week, let me point out that Northwest Arkansas is the peak of that high ground (with Fayetteville being a kind of spring-fed pond near the top.) Well, it turns out that even high ground can get a little soggy if some rain falls in just the right spot.

Certainly, Denise Garner of Fayetteville's win over incumbent Republican Rep. Charlie Collins was the race Democrats had to win to be taken seriously any more. Collins was the major target. But Collins was the major target because he had baggage. His guns-on-campus bill made him potent enemies. Williams had none. Godfrey's win does not include any of Fayetteville either. Her district is pure Springdale.

Garner's win encourages Democrats to challenge vulnerable Republican incumbents. Godfrey's win, however, encourages Democrats to challenge them all.

Allow me to quote now-Gov. Asa Hutchinson from an interview in 1999 about what the 1993 election of Mike Huckabee as lieutenant governor did for the Republicans. The GOP was just as much a minority party then as the Democrats are now. Certainly the effect of winning one House district is not the same as winning statewide office in scale, but the description of the effect is good:

"The toughest thing in recruiting candidates was the idea that 'I just can't win as a Republican.' I heard that time and time again as state party chairman. We'd have the best candidates choosing to run as Democrats because they believed they had to if they were going to win. We tried to overcome it with statistical analysis, showing how people in the area voted for Republican presidential candidates. But nothing works like proof, and Mike Huckabee's election as lieutenant governor was proof."

Democratic candidates just as qualified as Godfrey ran in other districts around here and got slammed. They were just as hard-working, just as well-funded and organized and with just as many volunteers following strategy and plans every bit as detailed. Yet they hit a red wall outside of Fayetteville. So did Godfrey. The only difference was Godfrey hit the wall in a spot where it proved breakable.

A wall broken through in one place is weaker everywhere.

"Northwest Arkansas is going to stay Republican, but the difference is we are going to have to work to keep it that way," said Richard Bearden, a Little Rock consultant who helped create the GOP majority that exists today. He was more right than I knew when I quoted him saying that last month. As it turns out, part of the work Republicans have to do now is repair work.

In closing, Williams deserves public trust in another office, if not in the next election then certainly after legislative redistricting following the 2020 census. This region will gain seats in the General Assembly as a result of population growth. I have no doubt that both he and Godfrey would work together for the town they both love if they are ever in the same delegation. Springdale is fortunate to have each of them.

Commentary on 11/10/2018

Print Headline: The high ground gets damp

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