Well, here we go. I lift a commemorative Republican mug this morning to the GOP sweep of Arkansas congressional seats and the new Republican majority in the Arkansas Senate and, perhaps, though this is still distantly in doubt, in the House. (PS — I trust regular readers know I'm only congratulating, not celebrating.)
Though built on enmity toward Barack Obama, who'll lead our country for four more years thanks to an electoral college landslide, the GOP victory is no passing fancy. It is a cultural shift of Arkansas political leaning to align with the rest of the Deep South and likely to be with us for many years to come. I heard a first-time voter explain in a radio interview today that she voted Republican because that was her family tradition.
Rich irony: Many Republicans were elected on mailed pleas to defeat Democrats who'd voted to put a highway sales tax proposal on the ballot. The sales tax was overwhelmingly approved the same night many of those criticzed Democrats were turned out.
The night's results likely will be reflected in a still-divided Congress.
The Arkansas legislature will grow to more resemble Washington, beginning with a Senate controlled by a party different from that of the chief executive. Republicans rode to power on very specific promises on taxes and reduction in the size of government. They'll press those issues — as they should to keep their promises. They'll be understandably reluctant to work with a governor who spent $1 million to defeat them, often with personal dirt dug up in research of business, tax and criminal records.
Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe, ultimately, must accede to the legislative majority in many things, because a simple majority can override a veto. The 75 percent vote requirement for most spending bills presents a challenge for both sides.
But will there be a Republican majority in both houses? The answer is not yet wholly certain, though it appears so.
If the Republican majority in both houses prevails, there'll be no constitutional impediment to a raft of social issue legislation, voter ID laws and other GOP agenda items already in place in neighboring states. Massive resistance will continue to expansion of Medicaid. The health institutions that will be harmed by this might bring some Republicans to their side, but a solid bloc of the new Republican majority truly means what it says about reducing the size of government (and employment and services by government).
There will be a lot to cover that's for sure in the brave new world.
Good news on the local scene was spotty, but there was some:
* BIG NEWS IN THE HOUSE: I gave up too soon last night and believed the bold and repeated cocky (and dramatically exaggerated) assertions of Republican pollsters and consultants that they were headed to a giant win in the House. The early trends didn't hold up as Democrats won a number of seats they were expected to lose. The Republican majority fell well short of the lofty heights predicted by Republican sycophants and putative polling experts. They talked of wins of high as 65, 70 seats. The scant 1-vote majority of 51 also came on the strength of very tight wins.
Here's where it stands this morning in the Arkansas House.
With tallies completed, the count: 51 Republicans, 48 Democrats and one Green candidate, Fred Smith, who once was a Democrat until the party sued to disqualify him from an earlier term on account of a theft conviction. He was succeeded by a Democrat himself ruled ineligible in a vote buying scheme.
That's a working majority — enough to elect Terry Rice as speaker over Democrat Darrin Williams and to turn over the House staff. (The Senate staff is likely in peril as well, though that new governing bunch isn't quite as mean and vengeful as the rising Republican House majority.) But ....
Roby Brock of Talk Business reports that L.J. Bryant, a Democrat from Augusta, who trailed Republican John Hutchinson of Harrisburg by 45 votes, will likely seek a recount and there may be ground for a change in this election. Talk Business quotes Bryant as saying some 200 provisional ballots are at issue in this race. A swing here would move the count to 50-49-1 and make Fred Smith a very important man.
The Senate currently is split 21-14, but this counts a very close race between Mike Akin and Eddie Cheatham in Southeast Arkansas as Democratic, where Democrat Cheatham has a 342-vote lead but a couple of precincts (in Democratic Chicot County) are unaccounted for. (UPDATE: Akin has now conceded.) This again falls short of the number which Republicans had publicly boasted they'd win.
* THE THREE REPUBLICAN STOOGES: David Kizzia of Malvern beat neo-Confederate Republican Loy Mauch of Bismarck; Harold Copenhaver of Jonesboro defeated another Republican slavery apologist and imnmigrant hater, Rep. Jon Hubbard, and James McLean beat the wacky former Republican Rep. Charlie Fuqua in Batesville. A flurry of last-minute publicity about these races (yes, it was driven by the Arkansas Times and this blog) helped Democrats immeasurably and tightened the final House count considerably.
* SO MUCH FOR RESUME PADDING: Republican U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, a heavily funded, disciplined and energetic candidate with national backing scored the lowest of any of the Republican congressional winners Tuesday night, only about 55 percent of the vote in his district against a lightly funded, low-profile challenger. He suffered a sound loss in his home county of Pulaski, where he only got 44 percent of the vote. It's not a great start for a planned U.S. Senate race in 2014. Republican Tom Cotton, the big winner in the 4th Congressional District, may be a stronger Senate contender when all is said and done. I'm expecting Griffin also will lose his own voting precinct, as he lost his home county, to Democratic challenger Herb Rule. UPDATE: In fairness, Griffin eked out a win at the Fire Station in the Heights — 579-552 for the other candidates at one of the precincts there; 536-510 at the other.
* HUMAN RIGHTS: Talk about a bright spot. As the old folks die and younger people come forward, human rights advance. Maine voters made history, passing the first voter-approved marriage equality law for gay couples. Maryland voters affirmed the state's marriage equality law. A same sex marriage law won in the state of Washington, 52-48. Minnesota voters, by a similar margin, defeated a proposal to constitutionally ban same sex marriage. A four-state sweep on this issue would be a watershed, even if that mighty stream isn't going to roll down on Arkansas and the rest of the South anytime soon. Arkansan Chad Griffin, another proud product of Hope, Ark., is the leader of the nation's most important gay rights organization, the Human Rights Campaign. It mounted a smart and massive effort in behalf of these outcomes. A lesbian was elected to the U.S. Senate in Wisconsin. Iowa voters refused to turn out more of the state Supreme Court justices who'd permitted same-sex marriage there. This was an unalloyed great night for sexual minorities, particularly when you add the president's re-election and his record in support of same-sex marriage, gays in the military and all the rest. More here from NY Times.
AND GETTA LOAD OF THIS: Mike Huckabee was quoted as saying yesterday was going to be a national show of support for Chick-fil-A and all those who endorsed its owners' work against gay rights. Say what?
* WOMEN'S CHOICE: Strident anti-abortion candidates were the reason the Republicans failed to make gains in the U.S. Senate. A majority in America is not ready to strip American women of choice or birth control pills, Jason Rapert's victory in the Conway-centered Arkansas Senate district over the valiant Linda Tyler notwithstanding. Will the new Republican majority, if it holds, really join Rapert in his bill to require forced vaginal probes of women seeking abortion in the earliest stages of pregnancy? We'll see.
Whatever else, the sun will still rise tomorrow.
PS — The ready assumption of Republicans and some others is that President Obama will remain an albatross to state Democrats in 2014, when statewide races will be on the ballot. I heard Jay Barth explain reasons that might not be so, beginning with hopes that an improved economy will change electoral dynamics tremendously. Obama didn't cost Democrats congressional seats. Lack of strong, well-financed candidates spelled defeat in two districts wiith potential to go Democratic. Obama didn't prove nearly the drag that Republicans expected on legislative elections. Their predictions for victory were exaggerated by 20 percent in the House and by 15 to 20 percent in the Senate. How Republicans govern in the next two years in tandem with a still-popular Democratic governor might give Democrats something to run with in two years. Dustin McDaniel or Bill Halter best hope so. Old Southern white men won't vote for Obama, no doubt about it. But the Arkansas variety of the species might still have enough memory of the recent past to cast some votes for Democratic candidates down ballot in two years. Tuesday night's outcomes — see state legislative races in the 1st District particularly — offered a little hope for that premise.
So how can his supporters claim to be anything but? It's astonishing. Lessons not learned.
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