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End of an era

Updated: Jan 10

I often give a speech about how Arkansas lost more population per capita than any other state from 1940-60. We’ve been gaining population consistently since the 1960s, however.


What led to that turnaround?


On the private-sector side, I point out the amazing business titans — people like Sam Walton, John and then Don Tyson, William Dillard, Charles Murphy, J.B. Hunt and others — who built some of the nation’s top companies in this small, poor state and kept them here.


Also on the private-sector side, I point to Witt and Jack Stephens, who in essence brought Wall Street to Arkansas. They had the ability to take the ideas of the state’s entrepreneurs and then take them public, allowing them to grow to the next level.


On the government side, I point to the power of the Arkansas congressional delegation during the 1960s when we began to turn it around. Those members of Congress were able to bring us projects such as the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers impoundments and more. Such projects helped rescue desperately poor rural areas of Arkansas.


I would always end the speech by saying that we had been blessed since the election of Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller in 1966 with a run of moderate, pragmatic governors. This was unusual for a Southern state. And it was not a partisan thing. Five of these governors were Democrats — Dale Bumpers, David Pryor, Bill Clinton, Jim Guy Tucker and Mike Beebe. Four of the governors were Republicans — Rockefeller, Frank White, Mike Huckabee and Asa Hutchinson.


While they might be a bit more partisan on the national stage, back home in Arkansas they governed from the middle. And that was a good thing.


We’re less than two months into the administration of Gov. Sarah Sanders, but it appears that long era has come to an end.


Sanders seems intent on bringing the chaos and divisiveness of the Trump administration to state government — from rushing through a major education overhaul in an attempt to avoid needed debate, to avoiding the Arkansas media while relying on national far-right outlets, to her mindless tweets.


The name calling from the governor is puerile and frankly just tired — the sign of a shallow person unwilling to debate issues on their merits.


“The left is becoming even more desperate with their lies and false attacks,” she tweets.


“We are not messing around in Arkansas. Every kid will have access to a quality education whether the left likes it or not.”


“The left.”


“The radical left.”


So predictable.


So unimaginative.


We’ve not seen anything like this in Arkansas since Orval Faubus and his minions were branding those who would dare ask questions as Communists.


The governor is demeaning her own constituents on a daily basis. And as a native Arkansan who loves this state, it ticks me off.


I think back to when Mike Huckabee was thrust into office following the 1996 resignation of Tucker. Huckabee dropped out of a U.S. Senate race he was going to win and immediately surrounded himself with experienced Arkansans. His senior management team in the governor’s office included highly respected former legislators such as Dick Barclay, Jim von Gremp and Joe Yates.


Huckabee later brought in strong, outspoken women (all native Arkansans with long years of service to the state) such as former legislator Carolyn Pollan of Fort Smith and Judge Betty Dickey of Pine Bluff. Huckabee’s chief of staff his entire time in office was Brenda Turner of Texarkana. Turner worked behind the scenes and kept a low profile, but she was a force of nature.


Sanders, meanwhile, has surrounded herself with political hacks who have no concern about the people of Arkansas or this state’s future. It’s all about the boss’ national political standing inside a Republican Party that is morally and intellectually bankrupt. They’ll simply move on to other states when they’re done here.


There are modern-day Barclays and Pollans out there, governor, who would be happy to help you.


I sincerely pray that you find them and listen to them. It’s still early in your administration. It’s not too late to turn it around.


Arkansas must come first.

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