Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Tuesday that legislators will be returning to Little Rock for a special session May 26. The main reason will be to pass a bond issue to help Lockheed Martin compete for a contract to produce the military’s new Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, the replacement for the Humvee, in Camden.
Lockheed Martin is a global megacorporation with $45.6 billion in sales in 2014, so it will be interesting to see what Arkansas taxpayers will be asked to fund. But this is the way the game is played these days, so Arkansas must play it. At stake is the production of 55,000 vehicles – basically, the auto plant the state long has coveted – and that’s not counting what foreign militaries might order. About 600 jobs would be created in south Arkansas, which needs them.
Legislators also will consider ways of streamlining state government – Hutchinson hasn’t offered concrete proposals regarding how – and might consider moving Arkansas’ political primaries, or maybe just the presidential ones, to March 1. That’s the subject of the rest of this column.
Tired of ceding the early presidential nominating process to Iowa and New Hampshire and then being forgotten later, a group of Southern states are considering holding their primaries March 1 in what many are calling the “SEC primary.”
Arkansas voters don’t usually play much of a role in presidential politics. The state’s primary election occurs so late in the process that many candidates have dropped out by the time Arkansans vote, and the state is so small that the remaining candidates don’t make it a priority. Legislators considered the SEC primary in the recently completed regular session. The bill didn’t pass, but support didn’t die. Maybe it would make Arkansas more relevant. It might give Gov. Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign a boost, which his supporters would see as a plus.
These campaigns start early – Jan. 3 in Iowa in 2012, in fact. This year, the Iowa caucus will be Feb. 1, nine months before the general election, and the New Hampshire primary will be Feb. 9. And of course, candidates already have been campaigning for months.
Didn’t we just have an election? These days, elected officials are so focused on the next campaign that they can’t do the jobs voters chose them to do in the previous one. And that’s a problem with real-life consequences.
Case in point: The federal Highway Trust Fund is nearly empty, and the bill that funds it expires at the end of this month. A real, multi-year replacement is badly needed, but time is running out. We were in this same situation last year, but of course an election was coming up, so Congress passed a gimmicky, short-term fix that funded 10 months of construction with revenues borrowed from the next decade. Now those 10 months are over, and we’re right back where we were. Uncertain about what Congress is going to do this time, the state Highway Department has cancelled $282 million in construction projects this year. Last month, the American Trucking Associations’ chief lobbyist told Arkansas trucking executives that a bill must be written this year or else we’ll have to wait until the end of 2017 because presidential politics will get in the way.
Contrast American democracy with Great Britain’s recently completed parliamentary election. Queen Elizabeth formally dissolved Parliament in late March at the request of Prime Minister David Cameron, the election was scheduled for May 7, the parties campaigned, and 66.1 percent of the electorate voted. The Conservatives won, and Cameron retained his post. It was over in six weeks.
Great Britain has its own problems, of course, and nobody here wants a monarch, but the United States clearly is not well served by a democratic government where few have time to govern anymore. According to the Declaration of Independence, the “pursuit of happiness” is one of the three inalienable rights that led to America’s founding. Are the nonstop campaigning and barrage of toxic negative advertising helping you pursue happiness?
We’ll know whether the primary election will be moved before the session begins because only issues where the outcome is reasonably certain will be included in the call. It will be predetermined behind closed doors, which is not very transparent but is efficient.
At least they’ll govern, and then voters can decide if they did the right thing. I hear there’s an election coming up.