© 2017 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.
This is the part of the calendar when I list my “Arkansans of the Year.” As always, take it with a grain of salt.
Any list of mine will be heavy into politics and policy, which interest me and provide my living. It would be more accurate to call it “Arkansans of the Year (whom I know about, am interested in, and are what journalists consider ‘newsmakers’).”
Besides, who’s to say what’s important? Journalists mostly focus on the earthly and the temporal rather than the eternal, which runs on a different set of deadlines. What creates headlines this year can be a historical footnote after 20. Important moments happen every day in this state with now 3 million people, but they go unreported. The teachers imparting knowledge in the classroom, the soldiers and firefighters in harm’s way, the cops on the beat – those people matter, a lot. They just don’t make the news very often.
Finally, like Time magazine’s Person of the Year, this list recognizes impact, for good or not so good, rather than achievement or nobility. It’s a newspaper column, not an honor.
So let’s get to it.
– Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House spokesperson. Whatever your feelings about President Trump, you can’t ignore Sanders’ impact as a newsmaker this year. The childhood Arkansas Governor’s Mansion resident has brought stability to the White House press room after the chaotic Sean Spicer era, and she’s held her own against the press corps. In just a few months, she’s become a celebrity. Spin is part of a press secretary’s job, and Sanders has certainly engaged in it. But she seems comfortable with what she’s doing, and her boss, who is watching her closely, seems pleased.
– Tom Cotton, United States senator. Cotton, 40, continues to rise through the ranks. The youngest senator appeals to Trump and Trump supporters, but also to establishment Republicans. He speaks often to Trump and clearly influences him. After Republicans failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Cotton argued successfully to end Obamacare’s individual mandate to buy health insurance in the recently passed tax bill. He’s rumored to be the next CIA director, and it’s hard to imagine him not running for president by 2024.
– Asa Hutchinson, Arkansas governor. He presides over a state with a 3.7 percent unemployment rate, better than the national average. He aggressively and successfully has courted international investment. He continued to diffuse the controversy over providing health care to 300,000 lower-income Arkansans under Obamacare – this time by promising to pare those rolls with a long-awaited waiver from Trump’s administration. His computer coding education initiative has been a big success. He staked his own political capital to separate the Martin Luther King and Robert E. Lee holidays. Meanwhile, his scheduling of eight executions in 11 days created a lot of national attention for Arkansas – the kind he’s tried to avoid. Finally, he enters 2018 with $1.5 million in the bank (as of three months ago), with the Democrats able to find only political newcomer Jared Henderson willing to challenge him.
– Doug McMillon, Walmart president and CEO. This is about the time when a dominant company built for an earlier time begins capitulating to younger upstarts without legacy costs. But McMillon and his leadership team are keeping Amazon from doing to Walmart what Walmart did to Sears and Kmart. The company is aggressively fighting Amazon on Amazon’s online turf while taking advantage of its own formidable assets. Like Amazon, Walmart can ship my purchases to my door, but only Walmart can also have them waiting for me at one of its 5,000 stores. The company’s stock is up 42 percent this year as of Dec. 22.
– Marcy Doderer, Arkansas Children’s Hospital’s president and CEO. Doderer is leading an institution that’s opening a 264,000-square-foot hospital in Springdale in January. The 24-bed facility will be the nation’s smallest free-standing children’s hospital, as reported by Modern Healthcare, but it will have a big impact and will certainly grow as Northwest Arkansas grows.
– Savvy Shields, Miss America. The third Miss Arkansas to wear the Miss America crown was an enthusiastic and energetic ambassador for her home state.
Those are my Arkansans of the Year. Your list would be as good as mine. Who would be on it?