A flyer arrived a few days ago in mailboxes in and around Bella Vista, Pea Ridge, Little Flock and Rogers in Benton County. It referred to a nurse practitioner living there in the area as "crooked Celeste Williams."
I had met a Celeste Williams in that part of the state when I spoke months ago to a Democratic gathering in Rogers.
I had, in fact, extolled her and five other young women daring to mount Democratic state representative races in staunchly Republican Benton County. Vigorous political competition was rearing its head in that ever-growing and demographically evolving county, a traditional GOP stronghold. Women, typically, were leading the way.
I remembered Williams especially because she had introduced herself that evening with enthusiasm. She spoke passionately about health care, the leading issue among several that had compelled her to venture into electoral politics. She had dared to make time--as an active nurse practitioner and mother of two young biological children and three foster ones--for what necessarily would be a labor-intensive, door-to-door campaign.
I had not at any point even considered that she might be crooked. What she seemed was ... nice, even good.
Yet it was this same Celeste Williams whose bespectacled image appeared on the flyer, next to a bespectacled image of Hillary Clinton, and who got called "crooked" on the glossy document identified as the work of the Arkansas Republican Party in Little Rock.
Williams called me back Tuesday while on her noon-hour walk. She said she had found the mailer "laughable." I told her I wasn't laughing; that she'd been called "crooked." She said, OK, it also was "gross."
The chairman of the state Republican Party is Doyle Webb. I wouldn't dare use the word "crooked" to define him in the context of that reprimand he got from the Arkansas Supreme Court on Professional Conduct in 2001 for the process he followed in helping an ailing old woman with her will and winding up the beneficiary of it.
But I asked Williams: Had she ever been charged with violating a professional rule of conduct for nurses or nurse practitioners or been given an official reprimand?
"Oh, no, I'm a rule-follower," she said, continuing her walk and apologizing for the sound of traffic.
"What I think happened," she said, "is that they [Republicans] haven't organized well" there in District 95, where she opposes a first-term GOP incumbent named Austin McCollum. She, meantime, has gone door-to-door in the district, and back again.
"I really think this race is winnable," Williams said, surmising that the Republicans must have sensed the same and looked to make up lost time with a quick hit-and-run.
"This is what's wrong with politics," she said, belaboring the obvious.
I inquired of state GOP headquarters as to the nature of Williams' supposed crookedness. The press spokesman, Stephen Houserman, wouldn't engage directly, but did send a statement by email.
It said: "It is apparent from the positions taken by Democrat candidate for House District 95 Celeste Williams that she supports liberal Democrat ideas such as universal health care, which will bankrupt our healthcare system, and opposing tax reductions that have already benefitted Arkansans tremendously. She has acquired Hillary Clinton's nickname because she has campaigned on her failed policies in a district that overwhelmingly voted against them. Have a blessed day, sir."
I'd have a far more blessed day, sir, if the state Republican Party wouldn't smear a woman simply because she held political views it disagreed with, and if the state Republican Party wouldn't smear someone as "crooked" in a mailer and then seek to dismiss the smear as a mere "nickname," and if the state Republican Party wouldn't say the woman "acquired" the nickname when all she'd done was hold legitimate political views and dare to account for them as a candidate for public office.
Being smeared is not an acquisition. It's an abuse.
The flyer says Williams supports a health plan that would bankrupt the country, though the only state-level health issue on which she focuses is the Medicaid expansion that our state's Republican governor championed; that she opposes tax cuts, though her full position is that she opposes tax cuts for the wealthy; and, worst of all, that she is a friend of Hillary Clinton, whom she has never met.
When I challenged Williams gently to ask if she really thought her race was winnable, considering the political history of her environs, she said yes, but, "even if not, it's worth it."
Being smeared as "crooked" strikes me a high price to pay for seeking public office to advance one's views.
But chatting with someone good-naturedly willing to pay that price ... why, that can make for a blessed day, indeed, sir.
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 10/25/2018