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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Boys State open line

Posted By on Tue, May 27, 2014 at 5:19 PM

click to enlarge Q&A: At Arkansas Boys State -- the best and the brightest. And also me. - TWITTER/JOE KIEKLAK
  • Twitter/Joe Kieklak
  • Q&A: At Arkansas Boys State -- the best and the brightest. And also me.

I'll open the night line with my annual report from Arkansas Boys State.

I spent most of the afternoon on a trip to Conway to spend an hour talking to delegates to Boys State. This is a tradition dating back to 1992. I talk about my liberal politics. The delegates and I joust on the points of disagreement that naturally arise between me and a predominantly white group of males who tend by their interest in an activity with a certain military orderliness to trend conservative.

Emotions can run high —to lusty booing in some early years. I enjoy it. My only message is that the questioners be ready to get as good as they give and to defend whatever their passion might be.

My theme today was changes since 1992. I confessed that my record as a liberal media guy wasn't much to brag about, given the fact of the changing political representation in the legislature during my not-so-famous career. But all the news wasn't bad. With technology, I could poll the audience, tapping into their cell phones, on some topics that have been controversial since my first appearance in 1992

* POLITICS: I polled the governor's race between Mike Ross and Asa Hutchinson. Lead: Hutchinson. Judging by my last look at the screen with the changing totals, the small margin was roughly what Asa has generally enjoyed in polls. But remember there were no female voters.

* SAME-SEX MARRIAGE: The majority remains opposed, but I'd put the margin at roughly 3-2, better than the 75 percent vote for the ban statewide in 2004 and, again, a vote from a male audience.

* CIVIL UNIONS: Narrow majority IN FAVOR.

* LEGAL MARIJUANA: Forget about it. This one wasn't even close. Pass the doobie, brother.

I spent another 30 minutes or so afterward with an intensely engaged group of students — some liberal, some conservative. Those not ready to make the switch on same-sex marriage seemed more concerned with why their side was viewed as heartless than with defending the position.

I'm not a half-full-glass kind of guy, But there's no way around it. If Arkansas young men trail their peers nationally, the needle is moving in the right direction on gay issues. That vote on civil union seems to me, if nothing else, a strong dose of live-and-let-live sentiment. That's progress.

I was uplifted, as I have been before, by yet another counselor who'd not thought much of my remarks as a senior in high school but, who, after a year of college, was more kindly disposed. I was dejected by the student who told of attempting to start a Gay Straight Alliance at his rural high school and getting some counseling from his principal in return — a reading from Leviticus. This public high school opens each day with a prayer, he said. The principal said fascism and Naziism could follow formation of a GSA. 

I should add: Abortion? I didn't poll this, but from reaction to questions and my answers it was clear the majority feeling was strong (loudly and fiercely) in opposition.  The opposition was rooted in faith. Non-debatable, in other words.

I gave my first speech at Boys State before the Arkansas Times had e-mail. Today, my picture was on Twitter and Facebook before I made the drive from Conway back to Little Rock.

Nice chat beforehand with a veteran Boys State Board member Len Cotton of Dardanelle, whose son, Tom, spoke  to the delegates earlier and was a Boys Nation delegate in his high school years to boot. (That trip to D.C. allowed Cotton to see President Clinton, just as a youthful Clinton Boys Nation trip produced that famous photo of his boyish handshake with John F. Kennedy.)  I mentioned the Senate race only in passing, in the context of a question about whether the country was being well served by the two-party system. I said rigid partisanship wasn't too productive at the moment. I mentioned Tom Cotton's opponent, incumbent Democrat Sen. Mark Pryor. I said Pryor was a mushy centrist. His thanks is to be punished on both the right and left.

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