Since Tuesday, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many of the folks who just got elected to office. Some of them have been around the political process before, but many of them are brand new. Here’s my first impression of a lot of the folks I’m meeting.
They have backbone. Lots of it. That’s not to say they’re the only ones out at the legislature with resolve, but I’ve been impressed with the level of determination they’re showing. Two years ago, Mike Beebe and then-Speaker of the House Robbie Wills were able to pass virtually every piece of legislation they asked for—including new taxes and vague pro-lottery legislation. I don’t think this crop of lawmakers is going to let that happen.
As my son sometimes says, “It’s hard to walk when you don’t have a backbone.” I don’t see this new bunch having any trouble walking the halls of the Capitol.
They are full of ideas. This new group of lawmakers was elected with a mandate: Change our current situation. The core of what voters are asking for is the same at the state level as it is at the federal level: Don’t grow the government. Don’t tax us. Don’t over-spend.
The new lawmakers are full ideas for meeting that mandate, and I believe they are fully capable of being successful.
They are ready to work. This is a group that’s tired of sitting on the sideline. Not many of them are “career politicians.” I would say most are regular folks who just got tired of waiting for someone else to solve the problems we’re facing. Some own small businesses; they live in modest homes; and they’ve worked tirelessly to get elected.
To put things in perspective, Mark Martin—who was elected Secretary of State on Tuesday—told me that during the campaign he got up at 4:30 AM every morning, and went to work. He put in a lot of long hours campaigning to get where he is today, and lot of others did the same. They know what it is to work hard, and they’re ready to take that same work ethic with them to office.
They’ll have to overcome some obstacles, though. Mike Beebe is still one of the most powerful governors to serve Arkansas in the last 50 years. He has a lot of political experience, has made plenty of friends over the years, and he’s very effective when it comes to passing legislation. If he and the legislature end up at odds with one another, you can bet that the new lawmakers are going to need every ounce of resolve they have.
There’s also the issue of re-districting. In 2011, Mike Beebe, Dustin McDaniel, and Mark Martin will be tasked with drawing up new House and Senate districts across Arkansas, based on the 2010 census.
Now while I have a lot of respect for Governor Beebe and Attorney General McDaniel, let’s be honest: History shows us that the party who controls the re-districting process often tries to re-draw districts in such a way to benefit their party and hurt the other.
There will be 2 Democrats and 1 Republican making decisions about re-districting. You know there will be a lot of pressure on the Democrats to try to draw some of these new Republicans out of a district. You can’t jerry-mander every lawmaker’s district, but if one or two of these new guys becomes a thorn in Governor Beebe’s side, he might very well be painting a big, red target on himself for when re-districting rolls around.
However, re-districting doesn’t always hurt folks. Back about 12 years ago, a gentleman was elected to office who told me “I don’t care what the Governor thinks. I’m going to vote the way I want to.”
He did, and when the Governor, A.G., and Secretary of State redrew his district, they left his house in it, but redrew the rest of his district so that it covered a new area of the state.
When he found out what they had done, this lawmaker just smiled and told me, “What they don’t know is all my kinfolks live in that part of the state.” He didn’t have any trouble getting re-elected, and in fact he’s still serving in the legislature today.