GOP’s timing was good … this year

By Steve Brawner
© 2014 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

Here’s what did not happen on Election Day: The American people did not simply rise up and repudiate President Obama and give Republicans a mandate.

Oh, they did repudiate Obama, but the Republican Party’s big win was more the result of timing and demographic factors that worked entirely in its favor this year and mostly will favor Democrats in 2016.

We’re talking nationally, not about Arkansas. What happened in Arkansas was permanent.

Let’s focus on three big advantages Republicans across the country had working for them.

Our two electorates. The United States is now made up of two distinct voting populations. The one that votes in presidential election years is bigger, younger, and more diverse, favoring Democrats. Many of those voters stay home during midterms, when the leader of the free world is not on the ballot. What’s left is an electorate that is older, whiter, and more affluent – in other words, more Republican.

Second-term midterms. So far, seven U.S. Senate seats have shifted from Democratic to Republican hands, and Sen. Mary Landrieu is probably going to be the eighth in Louisiana’s December runoff. Seven or eight seats sounds like a lot, but that kind of result is not unusual for a midterm election when a president is in his second term and voters are becoming cranky and annoyed. President George W. Bush’s Republicans lost six Senate seats in his second-term midterm, and President Reagan lost eight seats. President Eisenhower, World War II hero and budget balancer, saw his Republican Party lose 13 seats in his second-term midterm elections.

Democrats on the defensive. This year, Democrats were defending 21 of the 36 contested Senate seats, including seven states won by Mitt Romney in 2012. Senators serve six-year terms, so these Democrats were elected during the 2008 presidential election, when they had the advantage, and had to run for re-election this year in a midterm, when the electorate favors Republicans.

The reverse will be true in 2016. Republicans, elected in 2010 when they had an advantage in the midterms (and also after Obamacare was passed) will be defending 24 of the 33 seats up for re-election, and they’ll be doing it in a presidential election year that will be more favorable to Democrats. In seven of those 24 states, Obama won twice.

Republicans will have one historical reality in their favor, and it’s a big one: the fickle American voter. We have a habit of letting one party control the White House for eight years and then giving the other party a shot. In recent years, we’ve gone from eight years of Clinton to eight years of Bush to eight years of Obama. The last time voters let a president’s party stay in power after two terms was 1988, when they elected Reagan’s vice president, George H.W. Bush, for one term.

Of course, what happens between now and 2016 matters. How will Republicans govern now that they will control Congress, and what will President Obama do in his last two years in office? Does Hillary Clinton want the nomination, and if so, will Democrats just give it to her? Are Americans ready to elect her, or any “her”? Will the Republicans beat up each other so badly during the primary process that the nominee emerges too bloodied to win in November? Will one of the two candidates insert their foot so firmly in their mouth that Americans can’t hear anything else they say? Will a well-funded independent candidate like Ross Perot emerge to upset the apple cart?

Those questions remain to be answered. This we know: In 2016, Democrats will have the advantage because it will be a presidential election year, and Republicans will have the advantage because it will be their turn.

Womack: Yes to earmarks, no to pork

By Steve Brawner
© 2014 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

I’ll try to write this carefully because a member of Congress has presented a nuanced position that can’t be explained in three words or less, is out of step with the prevailing mood of his party, and easily could be misconstrued. That kind of activity usually gets congressmen in trouble these days, which is why they so rarely engage in it.

Here goes: Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., is proposing bringing back pork barrel spending.

Oh, wait. I did a terrible job of presenting that carefully. I’m apparently still decompressing from the 60,000 TV ads that ran in the U.S. Senate race in Arkansas this cycle, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

Let’s start over. What the state’s 3rd District congressman proposes is rethinking Congress’ self-imposed ban on earmarks, and maybe bringing them back with significant changes.

Earmarks are congressionally directed spending for specific projects. At their worst, they’re pork. They’re the “bridge to nowhere,” the $223 million Alaska bridge that would have served a tiny population until it was cancelled amidst controversy. In 2011, earmarks were banned by Congress in the name of good government, and they’ve been banned ever since.

Womack, who voted for the ban, says it was a mistake. Speaking to engineers in Springdale last month, he said the money is still being spent – but now by the executive branch. The Constitution says spending is Congress’ job, he said. He said that while some earmarks are wasteful, some can be quite useful. For example, no one knows his district’s highway needs better than he does.

There’s another argument for bringing back earmarks – they might help Congress actually get something done. In the past, earmarks were an important vote-trading tool that helped lawmakers coalesce into a majority. Yes, billions were wasted, but Congress actually functioned as a legislative body instead of the train wreck it’s become. Train wrecks such as the government shutdown cost far more than bridges.

When I mentioned that argument to Womack, he didn’t affirm it – either because he didn’t agree with it, or because he didn’t want to be associated with it. Just talking about earmarks is a big enough leap.

There are, of course, good reasons to continue the earmark ban. According to a recent Gallup Poll, only 14 percent of Americans approve of Congress, while 82 percent disapprove. That’s not exactly a popular mandate for more congressional power. Earmarks might make Congress no less a train wreck – just a more wasteful one. In the past, too many congressmen were judged not by how well they served the country but by how much bacon they brought home. Incumbents already have so much power that, this year, 96 percent of House members and 95 percent of senators who ran for re-election won, according to Politifact. Giving them more pork barrel power only increases the odds they’ll keep their jobs.

Womack is aware of the criticisms. He said earmarks should be reinstated only as part of a much more transparent process, including a cost-benefit analysis for each project. He said earmarks should not be inserted into major, must-pass legislation.

This isn’t the only battle that Womack, a 30-year National Guard veteran, has picked. For years he’s been arguing that Congress should let states and localities enforce their own sales tax regulations for online purchases. Legally, online consumers are supposed to calculate the sales tax for each purchase and then pay what’s required on their own initiative, but few do so.

Womack, a former mayor of Rogers, says the national ban places Main Street businesses at a disadvantage competing with tax-free online retailers. He also says his “Marketplace Fairness Act” isn’t a new tax – it just lets states and localities enforce their current ones.

But that’s another nuanced position, right? It’s so much easier to oppose anything that looks like a tax (while supporting spending increases). This week, House Speaker John Boehner announced Womack’s proposal was off the table for the rest of the year.

Credit to Womack for broaching a couple of difficult subjects. Whether or not they’re good policies, they’re risky politics. It takes a full column to explain Womack’s positions, right or wrong. Right or wrong, it only takes two words to summarize the arguments opponents can use against them: “tax” and “pork.” Which side do you think fits better into a 30-second ad?

What now for third parties, independents?

By Steve Brawner
© 2014 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

It was a great week for Republicans. It was a terrible week for Democrats. And for third party and independent candidates, it was mostly more of the same.

I thought there might be a minor backlash against the U.S. Senate race’s negativity. Nope. Libertarian Nathan LaFrance and Green Mark Swaney each collected about 2 percent of the vote. Libertarians each won about 4 percent in the congressional races, except in the Third District, where Grant Brand won 21 percent as the lone challenger to Rep. Steve Womack.

The governor’s race mattered most to third parties because winning 3 percent would have qualified them for the 2016 ballot without having to collect 10,000 signatures. It didn’t happen. Libertarian Frank Gilbert won less than 2 percent, while Green Josh Drake won 1 percent. That means the two parties will have to beat the streets again in 2016.

Independent candidates – those associated with no party at all – weren’t much of a presence in Arkansas. No independents ran for state or national office, and only one ran for the Legislature, winning 29 percent of the vote.

If a candidate outside the two parties was to win anywhere, it would have been in Kansas. Independent Greg Orman, 45, a wealthy, well-spoken businessman, opposed Sen. Pat Roberts, a Republican who has been in Washington so long he doesn’t even own a home in Kansas. Despite polls showing the race a dead heat leading into the election, Roberts won easily.

Voters tell pollsters they’re disgusted with politics as usual, and a record number identify themselves as independents. But they still vote with one of the two parties. The backlash always has been against either Republicans or Democrats, not both. Jessica Paxton, chair of the Libertarian Party of Arkansas, points out that her candidates won far more votes this year than they did in 2012. Still, in this state, the trend is clearly moving toward Republicans, not against the two parties.

Everything about American elections favors a two-party system – including how votes are counted, the way districts are drawn, the sorting of the country into red and blue states, and, of course, the billions of dollars flowing to the two parties and their allies. Major party candidates have an army of professionals helping them; third parties are all-volunteer operations. Realistically, the easiest path to political change occurs within one of the two parties, not outside them. An example is the Tea Party, which succeeded in moving the entire Republican Party in its direction, at least temporarily.

But independent and third party candidates should not be realistic. They should do what they think is right. Libertarians believe in reducing government to such an extent that they simply don’t fit into either party. Greens want far more environmental protections than the corporate-dependent major parties could stomach.

So what now? Mark Moore, who had hoped to run for lieutenant governor as an independent, has filed a lawsuit against a state law passed in 2013 requiring independents to collect the required signatures by March of an election year – eight months before the actual vote. Court precedents seem to be on his side. He believes independents could be successful running for local and state legislative offices if they have deep roots in a community.

Third parties must field those same types of candidates. Ideally, well-known, wealthy candidates who believe deeply in the Libertarian or Green cause would run for governor or Congress, despite the fact they almost certainly would lose. Those candidates are rare. High achievers usually succeed partly because they are good at calculating the odds and picking the right battles.

Greens and Libertarians must make two other changes if they want to make a dent in elections.

First, both parties not only struggle to raise money, but they’re also philosophically reluctant to do so. They need to get over that. If I’ve never heard of you, then I can’t vote for you.

Second, both parties must be more inclusive and less ideologically driven. On the plus side, they make it clear where they stand. Unfortunately, too few voters agree with those stances. If they want to win more than 2 percent, they must broaden what they consider acceptable, think more tactically, and try to appeal to more people.

In other words, Greens and Libertarians should start acting more like Democrats and Republicans. Which, many of them probably would say, defeats the point.

Is Arkansas a one-party state again?

By Steve Brawner
© 2014 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

On Oct. 12, 1960, Winthrop Rockefeller hosted a “Party for Two Parties” at his Winrock Farms estate on Petit Jean Mountain. About 850 guests each paid $50 to dine on his Santa Gertrudis beef and be entertained by celebrities.

Rockefeller had made improving his impoverished state his life’s mission since moving here in 1953. Part of that mission involved creating a two-party system, which was a big task. That year, the Republican Party fielded only seven candidates for local offices throughout the entire state.

It took 50 years for Rockefeller’s dream to fully come true. After the 2010 elections, Republicans held four of the state’s six congressional seats, the governor was a Democrat, and the Legislature was about evenly split with 75 Democrats and 59 Republicans.

But that competitive two-party system may have lasted only four years. At least at the state level, Arkansas seems headed to one-party dominance again – this time, under the Republicans.

“I hope not,” said Doyle Webb, Republican Party of Arkansas chairman, when asked if that was the case the morning after his party’s historic Election Day victory. “The Republican Party has worked for years to have a two-party state. I think that the challenge of a Democrat Party and its ideas are important to the Republican Party, and I think that two parties in the marketplace of ideas, opposing ideas where the public can hear those ideas, is valuable for Arkansas.”

To be sure, Republicans will never control Arkansas like Democrats controlled Arkansas. Before Tuesday, 59 of the state’s 75 county judges were Democrats. After Tuesday, 54 still are. There will be areas of the state that will remain Democratic, just as Northwest Arkansas was the state’s lone Republican stronghold for decades.

Still, it’s hard to overstate how convincing the GOP’s win was on Tuesday. Republicans now control every congressional office and every statewide office. As late as 2009, the state Legislature was composed of 98 Democrats and 36 Republicans. Now when legislators meet in January, 88 will be Republicans and 47 will be Democrats. Ten incumbent Democratic state legislators lost, as did, of course, Sen. Mark Pryor. No Democrat running statewide won more than 43.2 percent of the vote.

In fact, the Republicans may have won more than they wanted to win. It’s one thing to control slim majorities in the Legislature with a Democratic governor, as was the case before Tuesday. With such overwhelming numbers, Republicans will be fully accountable for whatever happens in state government. It’s all on them.

Moreover, it’s much harder to maintain party discipline when the opposition no longer represents a threat. Instead of one party or two, the state in effect will have several – Democrats, and then various factions of Republicans who work with each other or with Democrats depending on the issue.

The election will have far-reaching effects beyond all this insider politics. For example, the private option is in trouble. Barely passed by the Legislature in 2013 and barely reauthorized this year, the program uses Obamacare dollars to buy private health insurance for lower-income Arkansans. Republicans have been split, but Democrats have been united in support. Now the numbers are not in its favor. It will continue only if Gov.-elect Asa Hutchinson leans on his party’s legislators, which he might do if he decides he needs the program. If it goes away, 200,000 people must find health insurance somewhere else. Good or bad, that’s a big deal.

Will Rockefeller, the grandson of Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller and the son of Lt. Gov. Win Rockefeller, attended the GOP’s victory party Tuesday night. It was a very different kind of gathering than what his grandfather had hosted in 1960. The “Party for Two Parties” had been an introduction. This was a celebration.

One of the heirs to the family fortune is also inheriting a new political legacy. In 1960, his grandfather’s party could muster only seven candidates for local offices. Today’s it’s not only the majority, but it’s the state’s dominant political force, and likely will be for years to come.

The people rule, or micromanage?

By Steve Brawner
© 2014 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

The election is over. How did you do?

I’m not asking how many winners you picked. Being in the majority and being right are not the same. The question is, how well do you think you performed your hiring responsibilities?

Most of us probably made a reasonably informed choice in the U.S. Senate race. Despite all the misinformation we’ve heard over the last 18 months, most of us were familiar with the candidates and had an idea of where they stood and what they were about. Same for the governor’s race, and probably for the U.S. House of Representatives. Most of us probably were confident about the more straightforward ballot issues that affect real people – whether or not to raise the minimum wage, and whether or not alcohol should be sold in every county.

The farther down the ballot we went, however, the less confident we were. Let’s be honest: When it came to some of the lesser offices, most of us were just guessing based on not very good reasons. Nothing against him personally, but I’m convinced that Charlie Daniels made a career in Arkansas politics partly because he had the same name as the guy who sings “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”

Could we trim these lo-o-ong ballots just a little? Could we at least let the governor appoint three positions that few Arkansans care about: treasurer, auditor, and land commissioner? I’m not sure why we’re electing some of these local offices, either, such as the county coroner.

On Election Day, voters should be responsible for selecting policymakers who make and enforce the laws that govern our lives. Then we should monitor those policymakers to ensure their decisions reflect our priorities. In other words, we should be our state’s board of directors.

Governors, mayors and county judges should function like the president of our business. They should be responsible for hiring those who simply perform a specific bureaucratic function – such as dispose of tax-delinquent property, which is what the land commissioner does. I as a voter don’t need to elect that person any more than I need to elect the person in charge of the landscaping along the highway. The governor already appoints positions that are far more important, such as highway commissioners, and there doesn’t seem to be a movement to elect those.

The objection to appointing these positions is that it would give the governor more power and open the door for more cronyism. Maybe he’d just hire his buddies for these three jobs that don’t pay very much.

That’s a concern. To counteract that, the public must hold the governor accountable for potential misdeeds in his administration. If state government functioned more like a business and the treasurer were appointed, then after Martha Shoffner accepted those bribes, the governor would have fired her, and then he would have had to stand before his shareholders – the state of Arkansas – and explain all red-faced why he hired this person as state treasurer in the first place. Instead, we the voters had elected someone we’d never heard of to do a job few of us can even describe.

Americans are raised to believe that more is always better. Two scoops are better than one, and a super-size is better than a medium.

But more voting does not necessarily lead to a better democracy. At the same time, not enough voting opens the door for insider cronyism. I don’t know where the sweet spot is, but voters should focus on those offices that make policies and actually run the government, and not be expected to hire those simply doing a job. After all, our state’s motto is, “The people rule,” not, “The people micromanage.”

None of the above, ideologically

By Steve Brawner
© 2014 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

The nice young man at the front door asked three questions for a poll he was taking. Two of them aren’t relevant to this column. The third, I shouldn’t have answered.

It was, “Do you consider yourself conservative, liberal, or moderate?”

I hate that question. The answer doesn’t define most of us accurately, and it defines some of us too much.

It doesn’t define us accurately because people are more complicated than a one-word description. Many of us are “conservative” on some issues, “liberal” on others, somewhere in between elsewhere and, in a few areas, off the charts.

Moreover, just as people are complicated, so are political issues. Many don’t fall neatly into one category or another – for example, when and how to use military force.

I’m not a pacifist. Sometimes you’ve just got to kill bad guys. But it was the height of arrogance to think the United States could turn Afghanistan into a Western democracy by force, and we had no business invading Iraq. Or bombing Libya.

War usually does far more harm than good and causes more problems than it solves. It kills and maims people. It wastes resources, enlarges the government, and adds to the national debt. It despoils the environment. As we are seeing in the Middle East, it destabilizes entire regions and sows the seeds for more war. As a people, it first makes us fearful and willing to surrender our liberties. Then we become callous. Just bomb ‘em back to the Stone Age, right?

Looking at those reasons, am I a conservative who distrusts the government, or a bleeding heart liberal who doesn’t want to bomb people? Maybe I’m a little bit of all that, so does that define me as a moderate by default? Maybe I’m just a pragmatist who believes war is usually an ineffective foreign policy tool.

The other problem with these labels is that they define us too much. By labeling ourselves, we limit ourselves.

We all must have guiding principles, but rigid ideology narrows our thought processes. Too many Americans, and far too many elected officials, run every issue through a filter. What’s the liberal position, because I’m a liberal? What’s the conservative position, because I’m a conservative?

That filtering process is intellectually lazy. It makes us less likely to examine issues and makes us more easily manipulated by political and media demagogues. It also divides us into tribes so that our democracy can’t solve anything. A chasm now exists between congressional Republicans and Democrats that few even want to bridge. The only way Congress can function these days is when it’s faced with a crisis. So, occasionally, one is manufactured. How’s that working out?

I’m not asking for everyone to gather in some mushy middle and hug it out. I’m asking for a more thoughtful political process where elected officials and average citizens are more willing to come and reason together. We should appreciate the limits that our life experiences place on us – that I cannot know, for example, what it’s like to be a woman or of a different race, and that maybe as a result I have a few blind spots that are only worsened by blind ideology. I’m asking us to appreciate the idea of synergy, that your idea plus my idea potentially could lead to a better third idea, even if that idea can’t easily be labeled.

By the way, I told the nice young man I’m a “moderate,” and then regretted it. Of the three, it’s the closest to “none of the above,” which is what I will say next time I’m asked.

Issue 1: More democratic, or more meddling?

By Steve Brawner
© 2014 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

Should legislators be entrusted with more power at the expense of the governor and state agencies? You’ll decide by voting yes or no on Issue 1.

The proposal would amend the Arkansas Constitution so that all state agency administrative rules would require approval by a legislative committee before they could go into effect. The committee could make those approvals during legislative sessions or during the interim between sessions. According to the text of the amendment, the Legislature would define how that process occurs.

If I were arguing in support of Issue 1, I’d say this: The Legislature is state government’s most democratic institution. It’s the most transparent and the closest to the people. For average Arkansans, administrative rules hatched by state agencies often are no different than laws: It’s still the government telling us what we can and cannot do. Any new such potential restriction of our liberty should be approved by elected representatives reflecting the will of the people.

Why vote against Issue 1? There are practical and constitutional concerns.

The obvious practical concern is that it will lead to too much legislative meddling and too much politics in day-to-day administrative activities.

Might legislators hold hearings, for example, about when hunting season begins? Certainly – not just about the day, but about the hour. Maybe even the minute.

Legislators generally serve the state pretty well, but sometimes they involve themselves in areas that really aren’t their business and where they aren’t experts. Even though it’s a part-time job, they already gather for regular sessions, fiscal sessions, special sessions, and committee meetings. How could these busy, part-time public servants possibly consider every state agency rule with any sort of competence? Sometimes the details should be left to the full-timers.

The constitutional concern is that Issue 1 fundamentally changes state government’s power structure.

First, it alters the separation of powers between the Legislature and the governor by involving legislators in day-to-day decisions that traditionally have been handled by the executive branch.

Moreover, it potentially gives a lot of power to a few people. In the Legislature, committees are very important, but not all-important. Bills must pass a committee in order to advance, but ultimately both the House and Senate must vote yes or no, followed by the governor’s signature. If Issue 1 passes, the buck stops with “a legislative committee.” What committee, and who will serve on it? The amendment says only vaguely that the Legislature “may provide by law” for one.

This amendment isn’t necessary. If its purpose is to ensure state agencies function democratically, those mechanisms already exist in most cases. Most agencies are under the authority of the state’s governor, elected statewide by voters from Crossett to Bentonville. Agencies hold public hearings where regular Arkansans can comment on proposed rules. Finally, the Legislature already exercises power over state agency rule-making. It funds the agencies. It can write laws that prohibit bad rules from being enacted in the first place. If it doesn’t like an agency’s rule, it can pass a law overturning it.

I started this column by asking if legislators should be entrusted with more power at the expense of the governor and state agencies. Actually, none of them are supposed to be fully trusted in a democracy.

The current system of checks and balances allows that distrust to be exercised in a healthier way than this proposal would. The way it is now, state agencies do their job under the leadership of the governor, while the Legislature has the first say and the last say through the laws it writes. Issue 1 moves that needle too far toward the Legislature and will cause more problems than it will solve.

I’m voting no. You?

After a long campaign, here are reasons to vote FOR Cotton or Pryor

By Steve Brawner
© 2014 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

While sitting in a crowded waiting room the other day, my wife overheard a woman say she didn’t know what to do about the Senate race. Mark Pryor votes with Obama, the woman said, and Tom Cotton gets all his money from billionaires.

She no doubt reflects a lot of voters. After a year-and-a-half of campaigning and more than 50,000 television ads according to The Center for Public Integrity, the election for U.S. Senate is largely about these caricatures the opposing campaigns have painted about each other.

Who’s to blame? The campaigns, of course, for selling it, and voters for buying it. Members of the media are guilty, too, of course. We mostly just repackage the products the campaigns provide.

So I’m done. We all know why not to vote for these candidates. Here’s why you should vote for them.

You should vote for Tom Cotton because he’s disciplined, and strong, and brave. As a younger man, he took a break from his promising legal career to volunteer for tours of combat duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As a congressman, he’s shown he will not back down from a fight and will not compromise his convictions. He’s taken unpopular stances he knew would be used against him: for raising the retirement age, because the system needs reform; against Hurricane Sandy relief, because politicians had used that tragedy to pack the bill with nonemergency projects; against the farm bill, because most of the money is spent on food stamps, a program that he believes has grown too big in recent years.

You also should vote for him because, if Republicans take over the Senate while keeping the House, then Congress might again function at least somewhat like a legislative body that serves as a check and balance on the executive branch, instead of remaining the divided and dysfunctional mess it’s become.

On the other hand, you should vote for Mark Pryor because he’s compassionate, and determined, and willing to consider others’ points of view. He’s shown he can play the hand dealt him – a good one as the son of a popular former governor and senator, and a bad one fighting cancer or running under the same party label as an unpopular president.

As a senator, he’s been willing to meet with others in the middle when so much of that body has camped out on the wings. When the government shut down, he was part of a group of 14 practical-minded senators who bridged the gap and helped it reopen. He does not forget that the big-picture legislation he passes affects average Arkansans. He also does some of the little things, like helping create a database that keeps track of truck drivers who test positive for drugs and alcohol.

You also should vote for him because, after a half-century of one-party rule under the Democrats, Arkansas should not become a one-party state under the Republicans.

There are reasons to vote for the other two candidates, too. Both Libertarian Nathan LaFrance and Green Party nominee Mark Swaney have put their names on the ballot knowing they represent parties that have no money, no infrastructure, and no chance of winning. They’ve done this because those parties most closely represent their deeply held convictions. They’ve campaigned at their own personal expense and on their own time. When given the chance, they’ve proven able to eloquently explain and defend their positions.

At this point at the end of a long campaign, many of us have determined that all our choices are all bad. Certainly there is much about Cotton and Pryor that I cannot support – especially the way they have torn down each other. Regardless, one of these two men will represent us, and our decision as voters should be based at least partly on choosing who would do it better instead of simply avoiding the one who would do it worse. They both have flaws, and they both have admirable qualities.

So let’s try to vote FOR something, even if all we are voting for is the democratic process itself. People died for this.

Website says Benton is America’s 10th best city for conservatives

By Steve Brawner
© 2014 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

Benton is one of America’s “10 Best Cities for Conservatives” because of its conservative voting record, its lifestyle habits and because its House member is Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Ark.,, according to the website Livability.com.

The website recently listed the 10 best cities for liberals, conservatives and centrists. Benton was the only Arkansas city to make any of the lists.

The website says it used city, county and congressional district data. It also considered election records, a city’s congressional representative’s leanings, and political self-reporting by residents. It also looked at how shopping habits relate to political affiliation.

For Benton, the website noted that Saline County has voted Republican in presidential elections since supporting President Clinton in 1996. Mitt Romney won 70 percent of the vote in 2012. It said Griffin “is a Republican who leans far to the right on most social and financial issues.”

The site said the city’s residents are likely to drive a Buick, read “Good Housekeeping,” watch “The Bachelorette,” shop at Sam’s Club, and dine at Chic-fil-A – which is ironic because the closet Chic-fil-A is in the city’s neighbor and high school football rival, Bryant.

While Benton may be conservative, it’s shown itself to be willing to tax itself for various community projects in recent years. Mayor David Mattingly said that when he came into office in 2010, Benton’s 1.5 percent sales tax was the lowest of the state’s 50 largest communities. In November 2011, voters approved a bond issue financed by the city’s 1.5 percent advertising and promotion tax to build the Benton Event Center. In its first 13 months, the center has attracted 71,000 visitors, Mattingly said.

Then last November, Benton voters agreed by wide margins to continue the city’s 1.5 percent sales tax while adding a half-cent sales tax to pay for public safety improvements and another half cent to build the Riverside Park community center.

“I have spoken with and built consensus on a whole series of subjects with Republicans, Democrats and Tea Party people in the room together and individually, and my approach has always been, if you give someone a place at the table, even though you might not agree, they can’t say you never, ever gave them a place at the table,” Mattingly said.

Seven of the top 10 conservative cities were in SEC country, with the other three in Texas, Oklahoma and Utah. Alabaster, Ala., topped the list. None were big cities.

The best cities for liberals were more familiar. Berkeley, Calif., was number one, while Boulder, Colo., was number four. Spokane Valley, Wash., was the best city for centrists.

Here’s a link to the site.

Libertarian LaFrance pledges to limit own term, donate part of salary

By Steve Brawner

Nathan LaFrance of Bella Vista, the Libertarian candidate for U.S. Senate in Arkansas, today announced a “Leading by Example” pledge stating that he would serve no more than two terms if elected and would donate all after-tax income earned above his 2014 income to chaNathan LaFrance Candidate photorities serving Arkansans.

LaFrance, an employee of the Walmart corporate offices’s Energy Department, said in a press release that he is promising “to live the changes he will fight for in Washington, D.C.” He supports term limits in Congress, including two terms for senators, and he proposes “the phase out and elimination of all federal income redistribution programs, to be replaced by private charitable organizations.”

As part of the pledge, LaFrance also promises that his office “will be available to all Arkansans on a first come, first serve basis.  … A corporate CEO will wait their turn in line behind a dairy farmer; a millionaire will wait their turn in line behind a working parent struggling to put food on the table.”

LaFrance received 2.5 percent support in a poll released this week by Talk Business & Politics and Hendrix College.