Archive for November, 2012

Speaker Carter and change in Arkansas

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

In my newspaper column for this week, I noted that the incoming speaker of the Arkansas House of Representatives — a 37-year-old banker and attorney from Cabot named Davy Carter — personifies the two revolutions that are forever changing the Arkansas in which I was raised.

The first is a demographic revolution.

The second is a political revolution.

Carter, a man I happen to think will make an outstanding speaker, was raised at Marianna in Lee County.

Lee County is representative of the counties in east Arkansas and south Arkansas that are bleeding population, a trend that has sped up in the past decade.

The largest population ever recorded in Lee County was 28,852 in 1920.

Here are the Lee County census figures since then:

1930 — 26,637

1940 — 26,810

1950 — 24,322

1960 — 21,001

1970 — 18,884

1980 — 15,539

1990 — 13,053

2000 — 12,580

2010 — 10,424

As you can see, Lee County now has about a third of the population it had in 1920.

Lonoke County, where Carter now lives, is representative of the counties in central and northwest Arkansas where there’s explosive population growth.

As agricultural mechanization took hold and sharecroppers left the farm, Lonoke County saw its population decrease from 33,400 in 1920 to 24,551 in 1960.

Then came white flight from Little Rock and the growth of Cabot as a Little Rock suburb. Take a look at the Lonoke County census figures since then:

1970 — 26,249

1980 — 34,518

1990 — 39,268

2000 — 52,828

2010 — 68,356.

With his move from Lee County to Lonoke County, Carter symbolizes the population switch taking place in Arkansas — 39 counties gained population and 36 counties lost population between 2000 and 2010.

It’s a trend for which there’s no end in sight as east and south Arkansas lose population while the central, western and northern areas of the state grow.

Next, there’s the political revolution.

For the first time in any of our lifetimes, Arkansas is truly a two-party state. For the first time in 138 years, Republicans hold majorities in both houses of the Arkansas Legislature, and those majorities are likely to grow in the years ahead.

Because he is a Republican — and a young, articulate one at that — Carter also symbolizes the political revolution. This revolution is one in which younger business and civic leaders statewide are now identifying themselves with the GOP, especially in those 39 counties that are gaining population.

Jay Barth, the Hendrix College professor who understands this state’s politics better than most, divides the state into five political regions. They are:

1. The fast-growing counties of northwest Arkansas, which tend to vote Republican.

2. The counties surrounding Pulaski County, which are also now Republican. The growth rate in these counties match, or in some cases exceed, the growth rates in northwest Arkansas. From 2000 to 2010, Faulkner County grew 31.6 percent, Lonoke County grew 29.4 percent and Saline County grew 28.2 percent.

3. Pulaski County itself (which grew 5.9 percent in the first decade of this century) with its reliably Democratic voters.

4. The Delta counties (most of which are losing population) with their Democratic tendencies.

5. A swath of swing counties that run from the southwest corner to the northeast corner of the state (skipping Pulaski County).

Barth sees these swing counties going more and more Republican in the years ahead. Indeed, when I grew up in Clark County, we didn’t know what a Republican was. Earlier this month, Clark County, of all places, elected a Republican to the state House of Representatives.

“The decisiveness of the Republican gains in these counties in 2012 suggests that they may have swung so hard that, combined with the other two GOP-leaning regions, there is now a comfortable Republican advantage in all statewide elections,” Barth wrote in last week’s edition of the Arkansas Times. “The statewide elections in 2014 will test this hypothesis. Probable Democratic gubernatorial nominee Dustin McDaniel may be able to bring some of the rural swing counties in the northeast part of the state back into play for his party, but the Obama-era gains up and down this spine of rural counties suggests that they have left behind their populism of the past and may well quash Arkansas Democratic hopes in the future.”

I agree with that analysis. Unlike Barth, though, I’m not yet ready to call McDaniel the probable Democratic nominee. I think there will be hotly contested primaries in both parties.

And I’ll go ahead and declare that the 2014 election for governor is one of the most important in the past century in this state. Because of our two revolutions — the demographic revolution and the political revolution — it’s crucial that we elect someone with the leadership ability necessary to prevent Arkansas from splitting into what in essence is two states within a state.

We need a governor who understands all of this state’s regions and their residents. In that respect, Arkansas has been fortunate in recent decades. Gov. Mike Beebe grew up in the Delta in Jackson County and never forgets the needs of east Arkansas, though he maintains strong support in the more prosperous regions of the state.

Beebe’s predecessor, Gov. Mike Huckabee, grew up in the southwest corner of the state in Hempstead County and knew what it was like to be an Arkansan outside the reach of the Little Rock television market.

The twin revolutions require a governor who understands the needs of all 75 counties and has the ability to work with both Republicans and Democrats.

Things get even more interesting when you consider that this will be the first governor’s race since 1966 without a clear frontrunner or an incumbent in the race. In 1966, Orval Faubus chose not to seek a seventh two-year term as governor. Republican Winthrop Rockefeller, who had lost to Faubus two years earlier, defeated Democratic nominee Jim Johnson, becoming the first Republican governor since Reconstruction.

Consider what has happened since then:

– Rockefeller ran as an incumbent in 1968 and 1970, winning the first time and losing to Dale Bumpers in 1970.

– Bumpers won as an incumbent in 1972.

– David Pryor entered the race as the acknowledged frontrunner in 1974 in a Democratic primary race against Faubus and my Arkadelphia neighbor at the time, Lt. Gov. Bob Riley. It was evident that the Faubus era had passed and that Riley couldn’t raise the money needed to run a viable campaign.

– Pryor won re-election in 1976.

– In 1978, then-Attorney General Bill Clinton began the race as the frontrunner. He lost as an incumbent in 1980, and Gov. Frank White in turn lost to Clinton as an incumbent in 1982.

– Clinton then won re-election as an incumbent in 1984, 1986 (when the state went to four-year terms) and 1990.

– Jim Guy Tucker moved up from lieutenant governor when Clinton resigned to move to the White House at the end of 1992, and Tucker won as an incumbent in 1994.

– Huckabee moved up from lieutenant governor following Tucker’s resignation in July 1996, and Huckabee won as an incumbent in 1998 and 2002.

– Beebe entered the 2006 race as the frontrunner and won re-election as an incumbent in 2010.

So we had incumbents in the race in 1968, 1970, 1972, 1976, 1980, 1982, 1984, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998 and 2002.

In the other years — 1974, 1978 and 2006 — there were established frontrunners at the start.

In the newspaper column, I mentioned a story I wrote for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette more than 16 years ago when I was the newspaper’s political editor. In the spring of 1996, with Clinton running for re-election as president, we decided to publish stories on 10 key states. One of the states I wrote about was Texas.

I visited with then-Gov. George W. Bush at a Lincoln Day dinner in Waco, but I decided to focus my story on the changes in Williamson County, which is just north of Austin.

Williamson County was experiencing a population surge at the time. The pace of growth hasn’t subsided since then. The county grew 69 percent from 2000 to 2010. I went to the county seat of Georgetown and heard how Williamson County, once solidly Democratic, had turned Republican.

What was happening in Williamson County in Texas back then reminds me of the things happening now in places such as Saline, Faulkner, Lonoke and White counties in Arkansas.

People such as Carter represent the future of Arkansas politics.

Carter attended Arkansas State University. After a short time in Memphis working for the investment banking firm Morgan Keegan, he returned to Arkansas to work in banking for First National Bank of Eastern Arkansas. He later attended law school at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Carter, who first was elected to the House four years ago, works for Centennial Bank. He won me over back in early 2010 when he answered a question from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Three Rivers Edition that went like this: “What’s one thing you want to accomplish in life but haven’t yet?”

His answer: “Own a barbecue joint.”

Now you’re talking. What else would you expect from someone from Marianna, the home of the great Jones barbecue joint, winner of a James Beard Award earlier this year?

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Sporting Life Arkansas

Monday, November 26th, 2012

I knew big changes were afoot when Jeff Hankins left the Arkansas Business Publishing Group.

Jeff was a fixture at Arkansas Business, one of those people I thought might be there until retirement.

Now that Jeff has landed at the Arkansas State University System offices here in Little Rock, I have a feeling he will be happier than ever. He has long had a passion for ASU, his alma mater. There’s nothing like getting paid to do something you’re passionate about. Take it from a guy who is passionate about our state’s private colleges and universities and now has the chance to work full time for those 11 schools.

I hate to date myself, but I first met Jeff more than 30 years ago. He was a high school student in Pine Bluff working part time at the Pine Bluff Commercial. I was a college student in Arkadelphia, holding down a full-time job as the sports editor of the Daily Siftings Herald. The Commercial and the Siftings Herald were owned at the time by the Freeman family of Pine Bluff, and we worked closely together.

I became friends in the late 1970s with a Commercial sportswriter named Jim Harris, who was working for the newspaper’s well-known sports editor, the late Frank Lightfoot.

Let’s just say that Jim and I have covered a lot of miles together through the years — from the Liberty Bowl in Memphis to the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville (how many of you remember the fog that descended on the Arkansas-North Carolina game there in December 1981?) to the late (and not so great) Hall of Fame Bowl in Birmingham.

Within days of Jeff’s departure from Arkansas Business, it was announced that the vehicle for Jim Harris’ outstanding reporting and commentary on sports in our state — Arkansas Sports 360 — would be shut down by the Arkansas Business Publishing Group.

Fortunately, Jim was not without a vehicle for long.

Enter Simon Lee.

Simon, another longtime friend, was once an Arkansas Business employee. He’s an Internet whiz who has now made a career of doing web-based work for the health care industry. With most of Simon’s and business partner Jon Davis’ clients based outside the state, Simon has kept a low profile in Arkansas. But this Dumas native loves our state. He loves sports. He loves hunting and fishing. He loves the people and events that make Arkansas unique.

So two ol’ southeast Arkansas boys — Simon Lee from Dumas and Jim Harris from Pine Bluff — have hooked up to launch a go-to website at SportingLifeArkansas.com. The site went live last week.

Here’s what Simon had to say in his introduction letter on the site: “If you understand that sports in Arkansas is even more than tackles and blocks and dunks and homers and includes tee-ball, volleyball, swim meets, deer woods and eating some great food with good people, welcome. We are happy to launch a new online publication that features Jim Harris and a cast of other sports journalists and opinion makers from around the state.

“We want to bring you writers who will report and write about all levels of Arkansas sports, from the Razorbacks and Red Wolves to the Bears and Reddies. … We are going to work to be an outlet for sportswriters and aspiring sportswriters from high school through college. Part of the excitement of this for us is building a platform and outlet for the next generation of journalists and writers in our state.”

I’m happy to be part of the initial cast of characters at Sporting Life Arkansas.

Arkansas Business Publishing Group had a large audience for Arkansas Sports 360 but never could figure out how to make money off the venture. Simon thinks he can put his past business experience to work and find a way to monetize the site.

Sporting Life Arkansas won’t ignore hunting and fishing, which are so much a part of who we are as Arkansans.

“The sporting life in Arkansas is fun,” Simon writes. “The site should reflect that fun.”

Go to SportingLifeArkansas.com and check it out.

I like what I see so far.

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Rex’s Rankings (the playoffs continue)

Monday, November 19th, 2012

We’re two weeks into the playoffs.

Eleven days from now, I’ll be attending the first of six state championship games at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium.

Here’s the final installment of Rex’s Rankings for 2012:

Overall

1. Bentonville

2. North Little Rock

3. Greenwood

4. Pine Bluff

5. El Dorado

6. Fayetteville

7. Camden Fairview

8. Fort Smith Southside

9. Pulaski Academy

10. Jonesboro

Class 7A

1. Bentonville

2. North Little Rock

3. Fayetteville

4. Fort Smith Southside

5. Springdale Har-Ber

Class 6A

1. Greenwood

2. Pine Bluff

3. El Dorado

4. Jonesboro

5. Lake Hamilton

Class 5A

1. Camden Fairview

2. Pulaski Academy

3. Wynne

4. Batesville

5. Greenbrier

Class 4A

1. Nashville

2. Stuttgart

3. Highland

4. Prairie Grove

5. Warren

Class 3A

1. Glen Rose

2. McGehee

3. Harding Academy

4. Prescott

5. Fountain Lake

Class 2A

1. Junction City

2. Bearden

3. Carlisle

4. Salem

5. Gurdon

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George Dunklin and the ducks of Five Oaks

Friday, November 16th, 2012

Duck season begins Saturday in Arkansas, a high holy day for many residents of this state.

A number of the state’s hunters (and the out-of-state visitors) will head in the direction of the Bayou Meto, a slow-moving stream that begins in northern Pulaski County near the Little Rock Air Force Base. The bayou winds toward the southeast for almost 150 miles before emptying into the Arkansas River southwest of Gillett.

“The origins of the bayou’s name are a matter of debate,” Guy Lancaster writes in the online Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. “Some early French documents dub it ‘Bayou Metre,’ perhaps indicative of a supposed measured depth of one meter, though Judge U.M. Rose put forward the hypothesis that the name is derived from the French ‘mi terre’ or ‘minor land.’ Until the early 20th century, spelling variants remained common with ‘Bayou Metoe’ being used with some frequency.”

The Arkansas Game & Fish Commission began acquiring land in 1948 along the bayou for a wildlife management area. The Bayou Meto Wildlife Management Area, which covers 33,832 acres, generally is recognized as the top public duck hunting area in the country. It’s also among the largest state-owned wildlife conservation areas in America.

Almost 13,000 acres of the WMA are flooded each fall to attract ducks. There are two waterfowl rest areas, Halowell Reservoir and the Wrape Plantation. Up to 2,000 hunters converge on the area on Saturdays during the duck season.

Bayou Meto is surrounded by exclusive private duck clubs. One of those is George Dunklin Jr.’s Five Oaks, which attracts hunters from across the country and will be filled this weekend.

In the current issue of Arkansas Life magazine, there’s a cover story on Dunklin that I had the honor of writing.

In January 2009, Dunklin was named the Budweiser Conservationist of the Year. The award, sponsored by Budweiser and the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, recognizes those who have made major contributions in the area of wildlife conservation. Dunklin received a $50,000 grant for winning the award and immediately plowed it back into Bayou Meto WMA improvements.

On June 30, Dunklin’s seven-year term on the Game & Fish Commission ended. He was the chairman during his final year and a leading proponent for finding new ways to attract migrating ducks to Arkansas.

In May, Dunklin will become the president of Ducks Unlimited, the world’s most famous waterfowl conservation organization. He will be the 42nd president in DU history and only the second from Arkansas. E.L. McHaney of Little Rock became the DU president in 1948.

DU began in 1937 during the Dust Bowl era as waterfowl numbers plunged due to drought. A small group of hunters formed DU to raise money to preserve breeding areas in the prairies of Canada. From 1937-83, all funds raised were spent in Canada. Since 1983, money has been spent for waterfowl conservation efforts in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

DU now has more than 550,000 adult members and about 46,000 youth members. Local chapters host more than 4,400 fund-raising events each year, meaning that Dunklin will spend a lot of time away from his beloved Five Oaks during his two years as president.

Since its founding, DU has helped conserve 6.3 million acres in Canada, 4.5 million acres in the United States and 1.8 million acres in Mexico.

The United States has lost more than half of its original wetlands and continues to lose an average of 80,000 wetland acres annually. When soybean prices soared in the 1970s, thousands of acres of wetlands in east Arkansas were drained for row-crop agriculture. Much of that was marginal farmland, at best.

Dunklin has planted thousands of hardwood trees on his farm through the years.

“We’ll keep doing that for the rest of my days,” he says. “I won’t live to see some of these trees mature, but I really enjoy watching them grow from one year to the next. We want lots of diversity.”

During his seven years on the Game & Fish Commission, Dunklin steered funds to the Bayou Meto WMA for needed improvements. He calls it the “crown jewel of all commission properties.”

One management improvement on the WMA has been a mulching project designed to make land more attractive for migrating waterfowl. Millions of dollars also were spent improving drainage systems.

Dunklin didn’t set out to be a farmer and a nationally recognized conservationist. The thing he cared about most when growing up at Pine Bluff was tennis.

His father, George Dunklin Sr., won the state singles championship nine times between 1939 and 1958. The elder Dunklin was the top-ranked player in the Southern Tennis Association for almost a decade in the late 1940s and early 1950s and was a semifinalist in the national senior championship in 1968.

Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Paul Greenberg once wrote of Dunklin Sr.: “George Dunklin’s biggest win — it’s not easy choosing — was probably his triumph in the Southwest Open at Little Rock in 1947. He was the ‘old man’ of the tournament since he’d taken a few years off from tennis to win World War II, but he still outpointed all the collegiate contenders. That was just before Jack Kramer revolutionized the game, and some time before its fall into ill-mannered modernity in the age of McEnroe.

“In 1947, tennis was still inconceivable played in anything but whites. My personal theory is that the long decline of tennis, and maybe that of Western civilization, set in with colorization, which has had much the same effect on tennis as on Bogart movies: deplorable.

“George Dunklin’s toughest match, however, may have been in Pine Bluff on the old clay courts at Oaklawn Park. He had come back from the University of Virginia to take on the University of Arkansas’ top player, Frank McElwee. In those days they played three out of five sets, not a mere two out of three, and this contest went all the way through a shimmering hot day in June of 1939. Dunklin and McElwee had to play not only each other but the heat and humidity.

“It was the kind of match made for scrapbooks and reminiscences. Friends and admirers turned out in convivial numbers. The fierce competitiveness of the game was decorously covered by exquisite manners and hushed voices. Heads turned as if they were choreographed during the sustained exchanges.

“Tennis was an amateur sport then, that is, a sport rather than a business. The game was played from the baseline in long, steady returns from the backcourt. Flash was considered almost bad form, complaints unheard of and a player could be sidelined for a smirk. There was still a code to uphold.

“The memory of that match … still radiates. Who won? Not that it matters — the game was all then — but young Dunklin did, if memory and records serve. He usually did. Among his more than a score of championships are nine state singles titles over three decades (the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s). He likes to repeat a friend’s description of himself: ‘The Jimmy Connors of the Stone Age.’

“Even more than his titles, it is the persistence of George Dunklin’s performance that impresses. And the good humor. Dunklin always has been a champion win or lose, though in his case it’s usually win. Whether on clay at Oaklawn Park during a long-ago summer or senior tennis on grass at Forest Hills, he always provided interest.

“George Dunklin never claimed any great talent (gentlemanly modesty, surely) but says his life on the court indicates what application can accomplish. Omnia vincit labor, or effort conquers all. But the effort must never show. That’s the code.”

As you can see, Dunklin Jr. had much to live up to. His mother also was a force of nature. Her list of accomplishments made her the epitome of the accomplished Southern belle. The daughter of Mary Boone Black and the rice-growing pioneer Lester Asher Black of DeWitt, Mary Elisabeth “Lib” Dunklin graduated from Gulf Park College in Mississippi and then made her debut at the Memphis Country Club. She was a princess to the queen of Memphis’ famed Cotton Carnival.

Her marriage to George Sr. occurred at the Black family home in DeWitt in May 1949. They had met in Memphis, where George Sr. was playing tennis. She went on to become the chairman of M.E. Black Farms Inc. and a majority owner of the Bank of West Memphis. She even was a founder of an offshore oil drilling operation.

“Lib” Dunklin served on the board of Kenmore, the Virginia home of George Washington’s sister, and was a member of the National Society of Colonial Dames of America. She was a Junior League member in both Pine Bluff and Memphis and was appointed by Gov. Dale Bumpers and Gov. Bill Clinton to the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion Commission. She joined Helen Walton in founding the National Museum of Women of the Arts in Washington and served on the board of the Pine Bluff Symphony League.

George Dunklin Sr. and “Lib” Dunklin died just 10 days apart in May 2007 at age 89.

After serving in the Navy during World War II, Dunklin Sr. had returned to Arkansas to help run the family business. That business was Planters Cotton Oil Mill at a time when cotton was king in the eastern half of Arkansas. He worked for the company for more than 60 years until his retirement in 2005. Dunklin Sr. was the president of the National Cottonseed Association and a member of the Cotton Advisory Committee of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Dunklin Jr. played football and basketball as a child but found himself concentrating on tennis by the ninth grade. Coming out of high school, he considered three colleges — Ouachita Baptist University at Arkadelphia (his father, a member of Pine Bluff’s First Baptist Church, had given the school a substantial contribution for a tennis complex), Ole Miss and what was then Memphis State University. He wound up in Memphis.

The younger Dunklin’s last major tennis tournament was the Arkansas State Closed in 1980, the tournament his father had won nine times. Dunklin Jr. captured the title and began to think about new goals in life. His friends were surprised when he chose to move to Arkansas County to operate the farm that had been in his mother’s family for years.

Dunklin had dabbled in radio during his college years, helping produce a show taped in Memphis that featured the top 80 songs of 1980. Called “Countdown ’80,” the program aired on almost 60 stations. He decided that his future wasn’t in radio. After attending the 1980 U.S. Open in New York as a spectator, Dunklin convinced his mother to let him take over one of the family’s farms even though he knew nothing about farming or timber management.

Naturally smart, Dunklin learned along the way. Extra income came from leasing part of the land to the Memphis Furniture Co. for duck hunting. That deal was cut during lunch one day at the Memphis Country Club. The company had built what’s now Five Oaks Lodge in 1976 as a place to entertain its clients, and Jerry Jones had built a club down the road in 1982 (seven years before he bought the Dallas Cowboys) based on the design of the 1976 lodge.

In 1983, Memphis Furniture Co. lost its largest account, Sears Roebuck & Co., and decided to sell the lodge.

George Dunklin Jr. bought it.

The rest, as they say, is history. He has developed one of the finest duck hunting operations in the world while becoming an icon among waterfowl conservationists for his efforts to restore this piece of the Mississippi Flyway.

Given Dunklin’s background, it’s fitting that there’s a tennis court at Five Oaks.

Tennis, though, will have to take a back seat for now.

It’s duck season in Arkansas.

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College football: Week 12 (end of the road)

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

This is the final week for college football picks on the Southern Fried blog this fall. I’ll likely jinx myself by mentioning this, but I’m 15-0 on picks for the past two weeks.

That makes the record 72-15 for the season.

It was yet another SEC loss in this bummer of a season for the Arkansas Razorbacks, this time by a count of 38-20 at South Carolina. That dropped the Hogs to 4-6 overall and 2-4 in conference play. The Gamecocks improved to 8-2 overall and 6-2 in the SEC.

Arkansas’ struggles have overshadowed the fact that this has been a very good year overall for college football in our state. Consider the fact that:

– Arkansas State went to 7-3 overall and 5-1 in the Sun Belt Conference last Thursday night with a 45-23 win over Louisiana-Monroe before a crowd of more than 30,000 in Jonesboro.

– UCA is 8-2 going into its final game of the regular season in Conway on Saturday. The Bears won a share of the Southland Conference championship and have secured a playoff spot.

– UAPB is also 8-2 going into its final game of the regular season in Pine Bluff on Saturday afternoon. The Golden Lions already have secured the championship of the Western Division of the SWAC and a spot in the SWAC championship game at Legion Field in Birmingham.

– Henderson finished the regular season 10-0 with a resounding victory in the Battle of the Ravine over 6-4 Ouachita. It’s the first undefeated, untied regular season in school history. The Reddies get a bye in the first round of the NCAA Division II playoffs and will host a second-round game in Arkadelphia on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

– Harding finished the regular season 9-1 and earned a berth in the Division II playoffs.

– Southern Arkansas finished the regular season 8-2.

– Seven of the 10 college programs in Arkansas will have winning records this year.

All in all, it’s as fine a year of college football as I can remember in this state.

On to the picks for Week 12:

Mississippi State 31, Arkansas 27 — At least there were three Razorbacks who set records in last week’s loss to South Carolina. Tyler Wilson completed 26 of 41 passes for 277 yards to give himself 539 career completions. That breaks the previous record of 528 completions set by Clint Stoerner from 1996-99. Cobi Hamilton now holds the season record for receiving yards, breaking a record set just last year by Jarius Wright. And Zach Hocker’s two field goals and two extra points against South Carolina gave him 285 points in his career, breaking the record of 280 points set by Steve Little from 1974-77. Arkansas has now allowed at least 30 points in six games. The only two times that happened before was 2007 and 2008. As you can see from the predicted score above, I expect the Hogs to give up at least 30 points again Saturday in Starkville. Still, this Bulldog team is vulnerable and doubting itself after three consecutive losses. LSU beat Mississippi State for the 13th consecutive time last Saturday as the resurgent Zach Mettenberger completed 19 of 30 passes for 273 yards against the 7-3 Bulldogs. Mississippi State had only 47 yards rushing against LSU.

Arkansas State 28, Troy 24 — The Red Wolves were impressive in their win last week over Louisiana-Monroe. Ryan Aplin was 26 of 34 passing for 334 yards and two touchdowns. This team is starting to learn the Malzahn system. ASU ran off 21 unanswered points after Louisiana-Monroe had come back to tie the score at 17-17 in the third quarter. David Oku had 22 carries for 131 yards and three touchdowns for the Red Wolves. It was the fifth consecutive win for the Red Wolves as representatives of the New Orleans Bowl and the Liberty Bowl looked on. Troy is 5-5 at this point, a bit down for this traditionally strong program. But the Trojans will provide a challenge. Their wins have come over UAB, North Texas, South Alabama, Florida International and Navy. The losses have been to Louisiana-Lafayette, Mississippi State, Western Kentucky, Florida Atlantic and Tennessee (by just seven points).

UCA 35, Eastern Illinois 30 — The Bears have had two weeks to prepare for this nonconference game, which could affect their playoff seeding. This is a good Eastern Illinois team. The Panthers bring a 7-3 record to Conway. The wins have been by scores of 49-28 over Southern Illinois, 50-49 over Murray State, 65-15 over Austin Peay, 31-28 over Jacksonville State, 24-7 over Eastern Kentucky, 31-24 over Tennessee Tech and 39-20 over Southeast Missouri. The losses have been by scores of 52-21 to Western Michigan, 54-51 to Illinois State and 51-37 to Tennessee-Martin. Eastern Illinois has won four consecutive games.

UAPB 17, Prairie View A&M 10 — Monte Coleman’s Golden Lions struggled a bit on the road last week, but they still managed to bring home a victory from Grambling. In this final game of the regular season, UAPB hosts a Prairie View team that is 3-7 overall and 3-5 in the SWAC. The Panther victories have come against Grambling, Alcorn State and Southern University. The losses have been to Texas Southern, Lamar, Alabama A&M, North Dakota State, Jackson State, Alabama State and Mississippi Valley State. Expect Prairie View to keep it close Saturday afternoon.

Harding 37, Northwest Missouri 35 — Harding brings its ground attack to the NCAA Division II playoffs. Unfortunately, the Bisons have to go on the road to take on a traditional Division II power. The Bisons wrapped up a 9-1 regular season with a 38-7 victory over Southwestern Oklahoma in Searcy last Saturday. Fifteen Harding players had carries in that game as the Bisons finished with 358 rushing yards. Northwest Missouri brings a 9-2 record into Saturday’s game.

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Rex’s Rankings on the Road to the Rock

Monday, November 12th, 2012

Well, we’re officially on the Road to the Rock as teams try to make it to War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock for one of the six state championship games.

Wouldn’t you know that the biggest upset in the first week of the playoffs would be Mena over my Arkadelphia Badgers. We had the Badgers ranked first in Class 4A.

It was Mena that upset the Badger team on which I played in the 1976 state championship game.

Oh well.

Please plan on joining us this Friday night on more than 50 radio stations statewide (KARN-FM, 102.9, for those of you in central Arkansas) from 10 p.m. until midnight as we break down the second week of the playoffs.

Here are Rex’s Rankings after the first week of the high school playoffs:

Overall

1. Bentonville

2. North Little Rock

3. Greenwood

4. Pine Bluff

5. El Dorado

6. Fayetteville

7. Camden Fairview

8. Fort Smith Southside

9. Greenbrier

10. Pulaski Academy

Class 7A

1. Bentonville

2. North Little Rock

3. Fayetteville

4. Fort Smith Southside

5. Conway

Class 6A

1. Greenwood

2. Pine Bluff

3. El Dorado

4. Jonesboro

5. Lake Hamilton

Class 5A

1. Camden Fairview

2. Greenbrier

3. Pulaski Academy

4. Wynne

5. White Hall

Class 4A

1. Nashville

2. Pine Bluff Dollarway

3. Stuttgart

4. Malvern

5. Highland

Class 3A

1. Glen Rose

2. McGehee

3. Harding Academy

4. Prescott

5. Fountain Lake

Class 2A

1. Junction City

2. Bearden

3. Carlisle

4. Gurdon

5. Salem

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College football: Week 11 (Battle of the Ravine week)

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

OK, college football fans, you have no excuse.

Arkansas is on the road at South Carolina.

Arkansas State plays on a Thursday night.

UCA has an open date.

UAPB is on the road at Grambling.

If you’ve never seen a Battle of the Ravine, this is your chance. The 6-3 Tigers of Ouachita Baptist University and the 9-0 Reddies of Henderson State University kick off at 3 p.m. Saturday at Henderson’s Carpenter-Haygood Stadium in Arkadelphia.

You should be there if you like football, tradition and history.

There’s nothing else quite like it in college football. This game is to NCAA Division II what Alabama-Auburn is to Division I — a game that divides families; a game whose outcome is discussed 365 days a year.

Take last year’s contest as an example. After all the decades of play between the two Arkadelphia schools, the series was tied at 39-39-6. The ending of the 2011 Battle of the Ravine will be debated in coffee shops and at dinner tables in Clark County for decades.

Did Ouachita really score on that final play? The officials said no touchdown, and Henderson held on, 41-36, as tailback Chris Rycraw came up inches short.

Henderson had built a 41-17 lead midway through the third quarter, but Ouachita stormed back to score 19 unanswered points. The Tigers found themselves a yard away from the winning touchdown with less than a second remaining — a yard away from the most memorable comeback in school history.

So close yet so far.

Meanwhile, it was one of the most meaningful wins in Henderson history.

That’s the kind of game this is.

It’s the only college football game in America in which the visiting team walks to a road game. That’s right. The visitors don’t fly. They don’t take a bus. They dress at home and then wait for the state troopers to stop traffic on U.S. Highway 67 so they can cross.

This year it’s Ouachita’s turn to walk across the highway.

Ouachita is 6-3. The defending Great American Conference champions won their first six games before the many injuries caught up with them. They’ve since lost three straight and will come into Saturday afternoon’s contest as a heavy underdog.

Henderson, on the other hand, is 9-0 and ranked No. 8 nationally. Henderson is going for the first undefeated, untied season in school history. Henderson was 7-0-1 in 1927 and 8-0-1 in 1928, but there has never been an undefeated, untied season at the School With A Heart.

In 1975, probably the most talented Henderson team ever (the Reddies had lost to Texas A&I the previous season in the NAIA national championship game) came into the Battle of the Ravine with a 9-0 record. Henderson was ranked No. 2 nationally.

Ouachita was 8-1 and ranked No. 4. Trailing 20-14 with time running out, Ouachita converted a fourth-and-25 play by an inch. Two plays later, the Tigers scored, winning by a point, 21-20. To this day, it remains the greatest college football game I’ve ever witnessed.

The two Arkadelphia schools first played in 1895 with Ouachita winning by a score of 8-0. For years, they played on Thanksgiving Day. The series was ended following the 1951 game due to excessive vandalism and wasn’t renewed until 1963.

Last weekend generally was a good one for Arkansas schools.

UCA secured a playoff berth and at least a share of the Southland Conference title with a 35-14 victory over Northwestern State of Louisiana.

UAPB clinched the Western Division of the SWAC and a spot in the conference championship game at Legion Field in Birmingham with a 49-3 win over Texas Southern.

Arkansas won its homecoming game, 19-15, over Tulsa.

Arkansas State beat North Texas, 37-19, in Denton and is now in a tie for first place in the Sun Belt Conference.

We were 8-0 on the picks last week, making the record 65-15 for the season.

On to the picks for Week 11:

South Carolina 41, Arkansas 20 — Arkansas won against Tulsa to move to 4-5 on the season, but it wasn’t pretty. Looking on the bright side, Cobi Hamilton caught 11 passes for 177 yards to win the Crip Hall Award for best homecoming game by a senior. He will need another big day in Columbia on Saturday if Arkansas is to hang close. So will Dennis Johnson, who had 109 yards rushing and two touchdowns against Tulsa. I’m not expecting great things from the Hogs on Saturday, but you never know. Tyler Wilson suddenly could return to form. Paul Petrino suddenly could call some good plays. Paul Hanyes’ defense could show up. It’s too pretty a day outside not to think positive thoughts. But, as you see above, I’ll pick with my head, not my heart.

Arkansas State 31, Louisiana-Monroe 28 – It’s a huge game tonight for the Red Wolves as the national ESPNU audience looks on. Gus Malzahn’s first team at Arkansas State now finds itself in a tie for first place in the Sun Belt Conference thanks to Louisiana-Lafayette’s upset victory over Louisiana-Monroe last Saturday. In ASU’s win at North Texas, the Red Wolves had 476 yards of offense as their record improved to 6-3 overall and 4-1 in conference play. Louisiana-Monroe has identical records. Red Wolf quarterback Ryan Aplin was 25 of 32 passing in the North Texas game for 324 yards and two touchdowns.

UAPB 29, Grambling 9 — The Golden Lions are on a roll. Ben Anderson threw four touchdown passes and the UAPB defense returned two interceptions for touchdowns in the Golden Lions’ win over Texas Southern. It’s UAPB’s first Western Division title since 2006. At 7-2, the Golden Lions already have their most victories in the Monte Coleman era. The trip to north Louisiana on Saturday should make them 8-2. Grambling is bad this year. Its only victory was over a tiny program known as Virginia University of Lynchburg. The eight losses have come by scores of 22-21 to Alcorn State, 56-0 to TCU, 19-18 to Alabama State, 38-17 to Alabama A&M, 31-14 to Prairie View A&M, 45-21 to Mississippi Valley State, 23-20 to Texas Southern and 53-17 to Jackson State.

Henderson 51, Ouachita 30 — This is a Henderson team that has had two weeks to prepare for the Battle of the Ravine thanks to a late-season open date after running off nine consecutive victories. Last Saturday was Senior Day for Ouachita. Here’s how bad the injury situation is: Of the 12 seniors honored, only six were dressed out. The other half are out for the season. In losing its third consecutive game — a 44-28 defeat at the hands of Southern Arkansas — the Tigers gave up 336 yards through the air. That seems to indicate that Henderson’s sophomore sensation, Kevin Rodgers, will have a big day passing for the Reddies. Ouachita should score some points under the direction of quarterback Benson Jordan, who was 34 of 63 passing against Southern Arkansas for 372 yards.

Harding 40, Southwestern Oklahoma 19 — Harding is looking to finish the regular season 9-1 (with the only loss having come to Henderson) and earn a home playoff berth. The Bisons improved to 8-1 overall and 6-1 in conference play with a 31-9 win last Saturday at Southeastern Oklahoma. Southwestern Oklahoma comes to Searcy with records of 3-6 overall and 2-5 in the Great American Conference.

Southern Arkansas 49, Arkansas Tech 32 — It’s a shame that Southern Arkansas is probably going to finish the season 8-2 without earning a playoff berth. The Muleriders deserve to be in the playoffs. Southern Arkansas lost to Harding on a last-second field goal and played Henderson more closely than anyone else. Mulerider quarterback Tyler Sykora from Jessieville has had a wonderful season. He was 18 of 31 passing last Saturday in the win over Ouachita. Tech is trying to avoid its third consecutive losing season. The Wonder Boys are 5-5 overall and 3-4 in the GAC.

Northwestern Oklahoma 35, UAM 34 — The 1-9 Boll Weevils have a chance to end a nine-game losing streak against a Northwestern Oklahoma team that comes to Monticello with a 2-7 record. UAM lost 38-21 last Saturday at Southwestern Oklahoma.

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Election thoughts

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

There’s not a person alive in Arkansas who knows what it’s like to have Republicans in control of the Legislature.

Now, we will all learn together.

Regardless of what side of the political fence you’re on, Tuesday’s election was historic in our state. After trailing the rest of the South in going red, Arkansas will join the region with a Legislature in which Republicans have a solid majority in the Senate and a slight majority in the House.

The last time Republicans controlled either house of the Arkansas Legislature was during Reconstruction — a special session in 1874 to be exact.

The political tidal wave began to roll across Arkansas two years ago when the GOP captured every contested state Senate seat along with three of the seven statewide constitutional offices — lieutenant governor, secretary of state and land commissioner.

On that same election day in 2010, Republican John Boozman defeated incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, and Rick Crawford became the first Republican since Reconstruction to win in the 1st Congressional District of east Arkansas.

In the state Senate, what had been a heavily Democratic body suddenly saw Democrats with only a 20-15 majority after that 2010 election.

The Democratic House majority was just 55-45.

For two years after that election, political insiders noted that the GOP was in position to take control of one or both houses of the Legislature in the 2012 election. So in the context of the expecations coming into this week, what happened Tuesday night was not unexpected.

Over the course of two elections, though, the pace of political change in our state is breathtaking.

Will Republicans solidify their new position in Arkansas politics and make this a long-term trend?

I suspect so. I say that with a few caveats. First, the GOP must make sure its nominees are respected business and civic leaders, officeholders such as Rep. Davy Carter of Cabot and Rep. Matthew Shepherd of El Dorado. Extremists can and will taint the party brand. The widespread publicity given the comments of some Republican House candidates this year made the margin in the House closer than it otherwise would have been.

Arkansans are conservative for the most part, but they’re not extremists.

Nationally, much is being written today about where the Republican Party goes from here.

This I agree with (and remember I worked in both a Republican gubernatorial and presidential administration): The GOP must be more than the party of angry old white men. I’m an old white man, but I’m not angry. I’m pragmatic — pragmatic enough to realize that if the typical Republican comes to resemble the kind of folks who, say, call in on a regular basis to KARN-FM to complain, the party is doomed to permanent minority status at the Washington level.

Consider some facts:

George W. Bush won 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004.

John McCain won 31 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2008.

Mitt Romney, who pandered shamelessly to the anti-immigration crowd in the GOP primaries of both 2008 and 2012, received just 27 percent of the Hispanic vote Tuesday.

You can see the trend.

The percentage of the U.S. population that is all or partially Hispanic (a percentage that includes my wife and two sons) is growing rapidly while the percentage of Hispanics voting for Republicans is declining.

That’s a recipe for political disaster down the line.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who could be the GOP presidential nominee in 2016, told Politico: “The conservative movement should have particular appeal to people in minority and immigrant communities who are trying to make it, and Republicans need to work harder than ever to communicate our beliefs to them.”

Politico’s Jonathan Martin writes: “Republicans face a crisis. The country is growing less white, and their coalition has become more white in recent years. But the GOP’s problem is more fundamental than one bloc of voters. For the second consecutive presidential election, the Republicans got thumped among women and young voters in the states that decided the election.”

Martin uses the battleground state of Florida as an example. There are 190,000 more Hispanics and 50,000 more blacks in that state than there were in 2008. In Osceola County, a suburb of Orlando with a heavy Hispanic population, the Obama margin grew from 20 percentage points in 2008 to 25 percentage points this year.

Al Cardenas, the head of the American Conservative Union, said party leaders must figure out that the GOP is ”too old and too white and too male and it needs to figure out how to catch up with the demographics of the country before it’s too late.”

Former Bush political director Matt Schlapp told Politico: “Hispanics continue to grow in importance, and we need to embrace these voters for two reasons: It is simply the right thing to do, and it’s mandatory demographically if we are to avoid more presidential disappointments. It’s about simple math and basic moral decency.”

Basic moral decency. It’s something unfortunately that some Americans seem to be lacking.

Here’s where the Arkansas GOP could be a national bellwether for the party should it choose to do so. You see, the first Republican governor of Arkansas since Reconstruction was Winthrop Rockefeller from 1967-71. It was Rockefeller who brought blacks into the state’s political system and began breaking down the segregationist policies of 1960s Democrats.

Older blacks in Arkansas remember that heritage. Even those who don’t remember it have heard their parents and grandparents talk about it.

In 1998 and 2002, Gov. Mike Huckabee and Lt. Gov. Win Paul Rockefeller worked hard for the black vote and attracted a sizable portion of it.

Because of the Winthrop Rockefeller legacy in this state and the good will it generated, Arkansas Republicans have a unique opportunity to craft an outreach effort to black and Hispanic voters.

Here are the key questions: Do they have the courage to do so; the courage to ignore the angry old white men who call the radio talk shows and write letters to the editor? Will they stand up to the bigots as Win Rockefeller once did? Will they tune out the heated TEA rhetoric and do what’s right?

Will the Carters, the Shepherds and other rising stars prevail or will the extremists in the party prevail?

This will determine if this Republican majority in Arkansas is the norm or just a blip in our state’s history.

In a state that for so long was controlled by Democrats, wouldn’t it be interesting if the Arkansas Republican Party were to capitalize on its Winthrop Rockefeller tradition and in the process show the national Republican Party the road to majority status?

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Southern Fried on the radio

Monday, November 5th, 2012

I have some exciting news.

At least I hope it’s exciting.

There will now be a radio version of the Southern Fried blog.

Former Razorback basketball player Blake Eddins and I will host Weekly Fried each Monday from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. on Fresh Talk 93.3 FM in Little Rock.

We’ll cover a lot of the same topics as this blog — sports, politics, barbecue, Southern culture.

It will be fun. If we’re having fun, I figure the listeners are having fun. The debut show will be tonight.

Blake is an Alabama native who’s married to a Hot Springs girl. We like many of the same things.

We’ll do it all with a sense of humor as we discuss great restaurants, classic football games we’ve seen, the best tailgate parties, duck hunting, crappie fishing, the Slovak Oyster Supper, the Gillett Coon Supper, you name it.

And we’ll have interesting guests each week.

As Charles Osgood of CBS says, I’ll see you on the radio.

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Rex’s Rankings (regular season ends)

Monday, November 5th, 2012

We have come to the end of the regular season.

It’s playoff time, and it should be fun as teams are now officially on the Road to the Rock, hoping to play in one of the six state championship games at War Memorial Stadium.

Here are Rex’s Rankings at the conclusion of the regular season:

Overall

1. Bentonville

2. North Little Rock

3. Greenwood

4. Pine Bluff

5. El Dorado

6. Fayetteville

7. Camden Fairview

8. Fort Smith Southside

9. Greenbrier

10. Pulaski Academy

Class 7A

1. Bentonville

2. North Little Rock

3. Fayetteville

4. Fort Smith Southside

5. Conway

Class 6A

1. Greenwood

2. Pine Bluff

3. El Dorado

4. Jonesboro

5. Lake Hamilton

Class 5A

1. Camden Fairview

2. Greenbrier

3. Pulaski Academy

4. Wynne

5. White Hall

Class 4A

1. Arkadelphia

2. Nashville

3. Pine Bluff Dollarway

4. Stuttgart

5. Malvern

Class 3A

1. Glen Rose

2. McGehee

3. Harding Academy

4. Prescott

5. Fountain Lake

Class 2A

1. Junction City

2. Bearden

3. Carlisle

4. Gurdon

5. Salem

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