JOHN BRUMMETT: It's about the job, folks

Most of you vote for the "R" these days in the automatic and overwhelming way your parents or grandparents voted "D."

Arkansas likes lazy political monopolies.

That will be too bad next month in the secretary of state's race. The Democrat has experience, expertise and passion. The Republican offers only the "R."

The secretary of state has several responsibilities, among them mowing, maintenance, monument-guarding and file-keeping. But the big job is election services.

Susan Inman, the Democratic nominee, ran the election services division of the secretary of state's office for Sharon Priest. She was director of the Pulaski County Election Commission for 13 years. She knows more about elections than most anyone else, and she has passion for what she believes in, such as:

• Voting by mail, which she says we could expand to universal access simply by relieving the current ballot-by-mail restriction to absentee voters qualifying by disability or displacement. She would retain polling places for persons somehow not getting ballots or preferring that kind of voting experience. But she firmly believes that voting by mail, with the remittance of a marked ballot and affidavit of authenticity and a copy of a voter ID, would widen voter awareness, work to voter convenience, and encourage more people to participate and do so thoughtfully.

• Automatic registration by which one interacting with a state agency, such as for welfare services or a driver's license, would be registered to vote simply by that engagement--unless someone specifically said he didn't want to be a registered voter.

• Replacing the Board of Apportionment made up of the governor, attorney general and secretary of state to redraw legislative districts after each decennial census. She favors a more independent body with several non-officeholders appointed by officeholders. It wouldn't remove partisan politics from the process, but it would put a little distance between direct officeholders and the grotesque gerrymandering that sometimes takes place to protect favored incumbents or snooker unfavored ones.

In a debate last week on AETN, the aggressive Inman pretty much waxed the "R," Land Commissioner John Thurston, who follows the old and not-so-proud Democratic tradition of Bill McCuen and Charlie Daniels.

That tradition is to spend eight years on the state Capitol's lonely first floor in a merely clerical service office on land records. Then, as happened with McCuen and Daniels and now happens with Thurston, the land commissioner tries to move to the second floor to the secretary of state's office, which comes to represent the be-all and end-all to this land commissioner because the secretary of state runs the building where the land commissioner has sat around for eight years with nothing to do.

The land commissioner only gets attention when a whiz-bang investigative blogger finds out he spent nearly $30,000 for a boat with which to perform modest waterway responsibilities that could be handled by contracted services.

In the AETN debate, Thurston whined that Inman had accused him falsely of using the boat for personal pleasure. To be precise, she'd merely called the boat a "toy" that the land commissioner's office had used for business only six times. She said it makes her wonder what Thurston might buy if he held a real job.

She seems much more interested in election law than toys.

Inman lost badly to term-limited Mark Martin in the secretary of state's race in the Republican sweep four years ago. Then she lost a state legislative race. Losing seems to have liberated her. Where once she struck me as introverted, even shy, she now appears positively spunky.

You can't always tell what burns within a person.

"I'm just getting older, I guess," she told me.

She's worth a look by any voter interested in being more discerning than marking a straight "R" ticket.

She'd be no threat to tamper with new legislative districts. One specially selected "D" would be outnumbered on the 2021 Board of Apportionment by Republicans Asa Hutchinson and Leslie Rutledge. Anyway, she wants to farm out the job to a more independent group perhaps less inclined to draw some of the goofy state legislative districts we've seen every decade.

Thurston gripes that Inman only wants to change the apportionment process now that Democrats don't control it. That's another way of saying he only wants to hold on to the process because it's now the Republicans' turn to abuse it.

I'm mostly interested in expanding the opportunity to vote by mail. Forward-thinking states like Washington and Oregon have done it successfully. It would be better for voters to study their ballots at leisure at home, maybe even read proposed constitutional amendments, than to encounter inevitable surprises while standing in front of the voting machine.

Don't be surprised by the secretary of state's race. On that one, the "D" knows more about the job than the "R," if that matters.


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

Editorial on 10/14/2018