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JOHN BRUMMETT: Hill stands alone

by John Brummett | July 29, 2020 at 3:00 a.m.

We have now identified the left wing of the state's Trump-genuflected congressional delegation.

Thanks for that might go to state Sen. Joyce Elliott of Little Rock. Her Democratic challenge to U.S. Rep. French Hill may have forced Hill to sidle over to what seems now to pass for that left flank.

There is no better explanation for Hill suddenly departing from the Trump line to cast a sensitive vote. There always is the possibility, I suppose, that he cast the vote he thought was right. But why start doing that now after devoting himself for four years to Donald Trump?

What Hill did last week was distinguish himself as the only Arkansas delegate in the House of Representatives voting for a bill passed by a veto-proof margin to remove statues in the U.S. Capitol's Statuary Hall that celebrate figures of the slavery-defending Confederacy.

Trump has recently embraced the Confederacy--its monuments, symbols and heritage--making it a component of his re-election campaign. He is that rare Queens-born Johnny Reb.

The rest of the state's Republican delegation voted to let monuments to slavery and secession stay.

Those three--Steve Womack, Rick Crawford and Bruce Westerman--said that states ought to control things, which seems true of contemporary Republican philosophy unless Republicans really care about an issue, like, say, abortion, or how to teach American history. Then they embrace the power of consolidated central national government.

But they don't seem to care that much about de-celebrating slavery, an issue they blithely deem state-optional, though this is 2020 and some thought we settled the issue of state-option allegiance to slavery about 155 years ago.

Each state gets two statues in Statuary Hall. Arkansas has already decided to replace its statues of race-compromised persons with monuments to Johnny Cash and Daisy Bates. Womack, Crawford and Westerman said other states may make that kind of choice, if they want. Or not.

But the aforementioned Hill, representing the 2nd District of central Arkansas and opposed by Elliott, voted for removal as well as for a Defense authorization bill that calls for removing the names of Confederate leaders from 10 Army bases. And Hill says he'll vote to override a veto on the latter that his president has threatened, probably emptily, as is the president's style.

It seems entirely possible that Womack, Crawford and Westerman leaned on the crutch of state's-rights vapidity to avoid casting a vote that might offend modern Confederacy devotees among their constituents.

Hill had long practiced a Trump fealty equal to that of Womack, Crawford and Westerman. And he surely has such human anachronisms in his district as well.

So, what's different in his case? It must be the opposition of Elliott, a liberal lion and longtime icon of Black leadership in the state Legislature.

And that's odd. Time and again, Democrats have let futile hopes rise in the 2nd District, owing mostly to advantages in Pulaski County. And time and again, Democratic candidates have won Pulaski County and gotten drubbed into defeat by white conservative voters in Saline, Faulkner and White counties.

Elliott got routed herself by the Rovian Tim Griffin in 2010. She seems--to me, at least--significantly weaker as a challenger to Hill than Clarke Tucker two years ago. Tucker racked up in Pulaski but got drubbed in White County 80-20, losing districtwide 52-46.

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That seemed to establish the maximum performance available to a Democrat in the district. Yet Hill seems sufficiently concerned about Elliott that he tacked left, at least on the Civil War.

I'd say that something must be happening out there, but I've gone down that dead-end 2nd District road before.

And again, there always is the possibility that Hill simply believed what he said--that the state statues in the U.S. Capitol ought to represent our better aspirations, a category in which he doesn't place slavery or secession.

Meantime, there is the issue of that vital bipartisan Defense authorization bill, also passed by veto-proof majorities, that contains the provision for renaming Confederacy-honoring military bases.

Womack and U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton wouldn't even tell this newspaper last week how they feel about that bill, explaining that the House and Senate versions have differences that must be resolved in conference committee, meaning the issue isn't "ripe" for their having to take a stand on Confederacy-honoring place names.

Trump has been advised by Mitch McConnell, reportedly, that his threatened veto of the bill--to honor the South, as Trump has put it--would be overridden. It would be typical of Cotton to run interference for Trump and lead the way to try to get that base-naming provision taken out.

Cotton seems to exist to serve Trump's rhetoric and--by a new bill he's introduced on American history teaching--to act as if slavery wasn't any big deal.

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.


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