The Arkansas Times normally goes to the printer at 5 p.m. Tuesday. That would have meant a newspaper without election news during, drum roll, one of the most important elections of our lifetime. So we stayed late Tuesday to insert a few pages of election comment into the paper. We still had a midnight deadline, early for a day when a huge turnout was reported nationwide. Still, high hopes were dashed by then.
Despite great enthusiasm and a high turnout, George W. Bush again carriued Arkansas easil. Early predictions of a Kerry national win were based on unreliable exit polling and wishful thinking. There seemed to be a touch of consolation early in the evening in Arkansas. Bush depicted Kerry as a Yankee liberal and enemy of family values, particularly those values that say homosexuals are to be despised and discriminated against. Still, he forced Bush to play defense at the end in Arkansas. He energized thousands who may have cast important votes in other races, particularly state legislative races where the Democratic Party, alone in the South, actually scored gains.
But we must face facts. The Democratic stronghold in the Delta is being depopulated. The Republican fortress in Northwest is replicating little GOPers like a particularly nasty virus. It is no wonder that Sens. Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln cater to the right-wing on social issues and slavishly obey the business community. There is no other way for a Democrat to be elected to statewide office.
Ah, but there is the Second District. It still returns an iconoclastic, fearless liberal, Vic Snyder, to Congress. He voted against the war, against a controversial abortion procedure and in other ways easy to mischaracterize. But he explains himself, he comes home every weekend and he thinks. His tiny Republican opponent, whose name hardly bears repeating, was defeated before he started. All he had was a scare tactic, the non-existent encroachment of gay marriage.
And then there were issues. People aren’t stupid. I oppose term limits, but when the fat cat lobby says term limits should be watered down, the people require real leadership and grassroots support to go along. It takes some kind of campaign – there was none – to persuade people to devote a little more in property taxes to the schools. Gay marriage? It was no surprise that our fundamentalist state wants to ban it. We’ll pay for this overreaching amendment for decades and in time, hopefully before I die, repent. An amendment to allow nine-figure giveaways of tax money to private businesses, with, as yet, no spending controls and accountability, passed, too. The people of Arkansas have historically preferred popular control of bond issues. But the promise of more jobs persuaded many voters to give that power to a legislature that voters otherwise don’t trust to hang around for more than six years.
This is a state wracked by the rising Bush deficits and economic malaise, not to mention a large war burden.
That leaves, sadly, only God, guns and gays to explain Arkansas’s preference at the top of the ballot. In the end, Ohio didn’t save us from ourselves. The electoral outcome was that close, despite the seeming Bush mandate.
A word of thanks: The Pulaski County Election Commission, in the face of hordes of excited voters, restored order and sanity to the process. And congratulations to City Director Joan Adcock, who proved her formidable political skills to a couple of more challengers this year.