Four of a kind 

May not be enough to beat one Democrat of another kind.

FORUM: Elliot speaks.
  • FORUM: Elliot speaks.

To Central Arkansas progressives, these are times that try men's souls. And women's too, of course. And all minorities.

U.S. Rep. Vic Snyder, the seven-term liberal light of the Arkansas congressional delegation, is not running for re-election, and many followers of Arkansas politics believe chances are slim that the Second Congressional District will elect a successor of comparably leftish views. Aspirants are not lacking, however. Five Democrats are seeking their party's nomination, and four of them resemble Snyder in political orientation. (Though, like Snyder himself, they don't shout their liberal inclinations.) But three of these are practically unknown, with the election imminent, and the fourth is a black woman. Arkansas has never sent a black woman to Congress. The fifth Democrat is more conservative than the others, and he's the best-financed of the bunch, the “establishment” candidate, expected by many to lead the ticket in the first primary. The two candidates in the Republican primary are, like all Republicans these days, proudly far-right. One, the favorite in that race, is a Karl Rove protege. From Vic Snyder to Karl Rove is a long drop.

State Sen. Joyce Elliott of Little Rock was the only one of the candidates who showed up for a forum sponsored by the NAACP, though Scott Wallace, a Republican candidate, sent a representative. “Nobody owes me a vote because I'm black or because I'm a woman,” Elliott told a black woman questioner. “I will see myself as a representative of the people. I know I can't please everybody. But I think I will have a unique perspective on what it's like to be an African-American in District Two. I've worked with black and white all my life.” After some talk about treating everyone fairly, the moderator, something of a provocateur, told Elliott “If you treat everybody alike, and one person starts out 100 yards behind, he'll still be 100 yards behind at the end.”

“Fairness doesn't mean you treat everybody the same way,” Elliott said.

Through her service in the legislature, Elliott has established progressive credentials sufficient to win the coveted Arkansas Times endorsement. She told a Times reporter that while no one owes her a vote because of her sex or her race, she'll need heavy involvement by women and blacks in order to win. The Second District is about 20 percent black, and most of the black population is in Pulaski County, the largest county, and always a Snyder stronghold. The other counties are Saline, Perry, Yell, Conway, Van Buren, Faulkner and White.

Elliott is unintimidated by the racial disparity in the District. “I'm just assuming we're all in the 21st century,” she said.

Told that some people say they're for her, but don't believe she can win in November, she said, “Democrats need to be careful that doesn't become a self-fulfilling prophecy. This district is heavily Democratic. I can absolutely win on the issues in this district. I've won tough races before.”

All the Democratic candidates attended a forum a few days later at Philander Smith College. There was little that could be called “debate,” since the candidates tended to agree when they took positions on issues, such as health-care reform. When state Rep. Robbie Wills of Conway, the putative front-runner, was caught off-base a couple of times, he tried to smooth over the conflict. David Boling, Snyder's former chief of staff, was the only candidate who scolded Wills sharply. Boling said he supported President Obama's health-care bill, as Snyder did, but Wills had said he would have voted against it had he been in Congress. Boling also said he supported the cap-and-trade bill to reduce pollution, as Snyder did, but Wills had said he wouldn't have voted for it.

Wills, who is the speaker of the Arkansas House of Representatives, replied that “No one in this race has done more to improve health care in Arkansas than I have,” and cited his support for health-care legislation. He said he was worried that the new federal health-care legislation would require a $400 million cut in the state Medicaid program. Gov. Mike Beebe has expressed similar fears. But, Wills said, he wouldn't vote to repeal the health-care law. Both the Republican candidates in the Second District race have said they would vote for repeal.

As for cap-and-trade, Wills said the bill had been rejected by Congress and “It's not coming back.” He said he believed in global warming and the need for clean energy, “But I can't sacrifice jobs today for the promise of jobs tomorrow. Arkansas employers said cap-and-trade would cost jobs.”

Four of the candidates were firmly opposed to the “Don't ask, don't tell” policy for gays in the military. Wills hedged a little. Military leaders are studying the issue, he said, and “I think they'll recommend repeal. I'd support that.” Patrick Kennedy said that “don't ask, don't tell” was “the next great civil rights issue. And civil rights is the heart of the Democratic Party.”
Kennedy berated the other candidates for not taking as many or as strong stands on issues as he and another candidate, John Adams, had done. Oddly, Kennedy seems the most intense of the candidates, and Adams the most relaxed.

Kennedy mentioned his support of the Roe v. Wade decision on abortion. “We need Democrats who act like Democrats,” he said. The youngest person in the race at 27, he also said, “We need new ideas. We need new blood.”



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