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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Local politics? Not anymore

by John Brummett | February 17, 2021 at 3:35 a.m.

It's way early, so plenty of time remains for someone demonstrating an interest in Arkansas to seek high Arkansas office on the state Republican ticket.

So far, the state's ticket-topping Republican candidates run hard against Joe Biden and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. They boast curiously of irrelevant endorsements from people far from these parts.

We've come a long way in Arkansas since 2014 when Mark Pryor was still serving in the U.S. Senate and showing off a desk sign inherited from his dad and declaring "putting Arkansas first."

People in Arkansas cared about that kind of thing until ... well, until they didn't, which was about 2014.

State peculiarity faded to nationalized issues because of Fox News and the Internet and Barack Obama being a Kenyan Muslim and the idea that Democrats were going to take away people's Medicare and convert their health care to a government program, as if Medicare wasn't that.

"Tell the government to keep its hands off my Medicare," was a literal sign of that time.

If you didn't know better--and you don't, if you're me--you'd suspect that the elections in Arkansas in 2022 will be about locking down Arkansas as a Donald Trump outpost useful in the event the madman wants to incite another insurrection against America.

More likely, it's simply that all politics is shallow, polarized and nationalized now. Ambitious in-state Republican politicians simply feed and exploit Arkansas' gullible conservatism to serve their personal ambitions.

Tom Cotton has fashioned his career that way. He has appropriated Arkansas' raging conservatism to install himself less as the state's delegate in the U.S. Senate than as the senator for a harsh brand of national conservatism. Arkansas is a useful vehicle.

Now Sarah Huckabee Sanders, former official national falsifier for Trump, has plopped back down in Arkansas. Her purpose is to become governor because it's there for her taking.

She's running so far on the basis of videos and tweets in which she declares that she'll stand up to radical leftists, socialists and cancel culturists, of which there is literally a handful in Arkansas.

She also crows on Twitter that Kid Rock endorses her.

When she has dared to be local, Sanders has vowed to resist the Democrats' obeisance to teachers' unions that closes schools against the virus.

But Asa Hutchinson has kept Arkansas schools open.

Sanders is running for governor of Arkansas by presenting the nobility and strength of her resistance to unpopular realities in distant states. She relies on polls indicating that Arkansas voters fear, resent or deplore those realities in distant states.

She's banking that those fears and resentments permeate the Arkansas consciousness more than the Arkansas budget or tax structure or school performance or virus response, meaning the kinds of things that Asa Hutchinson deals with every day.

It's much like 2012 when Tea Party Republicans swept into state legislative offices on the voters' mandate to undo Obamacare. Never mind that the Affordable Care Act was a federal law that state legislators couldn't repeal.

That didn't stop Republican state legislators from continuing to deride the ACA even as they embraced it by voting to approve its Medicaid expansion.

Now Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin has slid down from an announced governor's candidacy to one for attorney general. He has tucked tail because polls showed him that Trump's former official national falsifier would clobber him.

Now Griffin has touted endorsements of his attorney general's bid from displaced Trumpian campaign manager Corey Lewandowski as well as the Trump-devoted governor of South Dakota and a woman who did two right-wing terms as attorney general of Florida.

That former attorney general in Florida sued the Affordable Care Act and took a big campaign donation from Trump while declining to investigate his Trump University. Then she got a job in the counsel's office of Trump's White House.

She is Florida's Leslie Rutledge.

Speaking of her: Rutledge nominally remains in the GOP governor's race against the Sanders juggernaut. She even tried last week to raise a state-specific issue. But she got it backward.

She issued a statement decrying the Biden administration's repeal of waivers for states to impose Medicaid work requirements. She said one size of Medicaid didn't fit all states and that a work requirement fit Arkansas.

But Arkansas has a higher percentage of poor and Medicaid-eligible people than most states, and fewer jobs. Before enjoined by a court, it imposed a kind of work requirement that removed 18,000 Medicaid recipients and reported job placements for none of them.

Arkansas is clearly a state in which a Medicaid work requirement does not fit.

Which, then, is worse--these top-tier Republicans not talking about Arkansas issues, or their talking about them?

P.S.--Sanders is likely soon to get an Arkansas endorsement to go with Kid Rock's. It would be from Griffin, who hinted of it in a Sunday interview with Talk Business and Politics, and who probably wants to assure everyone he is fully Trumpified.

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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