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The election returns last month were encouraging, but the 21st century so far has not been kind to sane people who let themselves get their hopes up. So in our annual review of the Bests and Worsts of Arkansas for 2006, we’ve taken our cue from Fox News by attempting a fair and balanced ’06 overview. We report, you decide.
There was much to like, perhaps more not to. The best-worst list is awfully politics-heavy this year, and the political parts tilt strongly in the direction of worsts. Among the public servants so-called, Gov. Mike Huckabee is the 2006 clear winner at harvesting worsts, as has been the case for a decade or more — at least since he went from Worst Fatso Politician to Worst Beanpole Politician.
Year after year, he’s simply had no parochial political competition for bad ideas, bad expression, bad taste, bad decisions, bad appointments, and overall bad performance. Never, ever, have we had such a sorehead. Who has been a half, or a tenth, as thin-skinned, sanctimonious, shallow, or petty, or as overweeningly proud to be all those things?
There have been scarier and sorrier Natural State politicians during the great Huckalapse but all of these were mere nuts or crooks who lacked the breadth of banality and the relentlessness of posture that made the Bro.-Gov. a cheesy character of a classical kind, and something of a prototype of the turn-of-the-century empty suit (in this case donated, with matching $3,700 gift boots) that nowadays squats atop the American electorate.
He had good political luck, and he was peerless at the gimme game, at collecting spoils, even spoils that weren’t intended to be spoils, but otherwise his overlong overmatched gubernatorial misadventure earned only worsts. There were so many of them this year alone that we ran out of room trying to cram all of the breath-taking last-minute huckasnatches and huckagrabs into the list below. Lord have mercy he really did include a love-offering pitch in his Christmas cards! Good reminder, Bro.-Gov, of the true meaning of Christmas.
Well, we won’t have him to kick around as much next year, as he will be off mill-tilting in presidential primaries in mostly cold and distant climes. But we’ll keep an eye out for major huckagaffes, huckaflubs, and other huckaworsts, if only for old time’s sake, and will duly list the most meritorious of them in the aught-seven B&W, if there is one. So stay tuned. Meantime, here are the ’06 winners.
Best trailer park
It was revealed in February that 10,000 mobile homes, purchased by FEMA for $300 million and intended to house Hurricane Katrina victims who had lost their homes, had been dumped into a muddy field at Hope, in southwest Arkansas, sitting empty and rusting for months as FEMA’s own regulations prohibited setting them up in Louisiana for the people who needed them. Heckuva job.
The exclamation point that was the official campaign symbol of Asa! for governor was so contextually incongruous that it almost qualified as a punctuational oxymoron. What was needed was a punctuation mark that indicates a yawn, or a sigh.
Best fall color
n In Central Arkansas, it occurred the second week of November, and the prettiest scrap of it might have been the river-city Hillcrest neighborhood that has been described as home to all the cheese-eating surrender monkeys.
n A gust of wind caused a last-second field-goal attempt by the Vanderbilt Commodores to fall short, which caused them to lose, by a score of 21-19, their game against the Arkansas Razorbacks in September, and after the game, Coach Houston Nutt of the Razorbacks theorized that the twin spirits of his late father and the late Razorbacks announcer Paul Eells had together huffed up that gust to save the Hogs from a second-year-in-a-row embarrassing loss to the lowly Commodores. For the Hogs it was mostly uphill from there, to a 10-3 season and a credit card bowl.
Worst fragile criminal
n Tom Coughlin of Bentonville, the sleazy Wal-Mart executive who ripped off his own low-paid subordinates (among others) out of apparently insatiable greed, was sentenced in August to 27 months for a variety of crimes but the bleeding-heart federal judge in the case thought this sorry character was too “fragile” for prison and let him off with home detention.
Best cow-world Duggar
n Faith, a 10-year-old Charolais-mix cow at the Cedar Creek Ranch at Harriet, earned the title of Duggar of the cattle world by producing her fourth set of triplets in September. This is thought to be a multi-calving world record. Faith so far has brought forth 22 calves in nine pregnancies.
Best place to live
n Fayetteville ranked No. 90 on Money magazine’s “Best Places to Live in America 2006” list published in July. No other Arkansas city made the Top 100 list. Topping it was Fort Collins, Colo., pop. 128,000.
n An overheated chimpanzee threw a rock and felled a parochially famous filmmaker at the Little Rock Zoo in August. Everybody’s a critic.
n The yellow roadside wildflowers peaked along the Central Arkansas byways in early October. And although the allergy-prone weren’t thrilled, the goldenrod was unusually heavy, providing a mighty pretty backdrop for all the black-eyed susans.
n A passing-through passel of Satanists was said to have set off a canister of tear gas or some other irritant that made about two dozen people sick at the International House of Pancakes in Jonesboro in June.
A homeless man was arrested in February and charged with stuffing a live sheep into garbage can and trying to sneak it out of the Little Rock Zoo for purposes unknown. Speculation concerning the man’s intentions included (a) mutton, (b) wool [very cold weather that day], (c) companionship, and (d) PETA-type liberation. A court-ordered psychiatric evaluation voted in September for (c).
Tommy Robinson, the former sheriff and Republican congressman and legislative floor goon for Gov. Mike Huckabee, was arrested and jailed with his son Greg for accosting, attacking and beating up a man in a Brinkley cafe in July. The man was one of Robinson’s creditors in one of his bankruptcies. TR probably qualifies too for Best Bankruptcy, wriggling out of about $3 million in debt in November and announcing immediately afterward that he would replenish the Robinson family coffers by going to work for $10K a month or more as a personal lobbyist for the president of the Republic of Congo. That would’ve been a mighty baffling career turn if you forgot to remember the old K-Street Connection.
Worst fowl play
From an article in the Arkadelphia Daily Siftings Herald in February:
“ ‘I found Boo Boo face down, floating in the pond ... . I picked her up and started giving her the Heimlich maneuver. I pushed on her belly and patted her on the back,’ he said. As a preacher, he also thought to say a few words over her. ‘I said, “In the name of Jesus, you will live. You will not die.” ’ ”
Boo Boo, a chicken, obviously didn’t have a Living Will. The Heimlich is not something that you use on a drowning person or drowning fowl, but somehow it brought Boo Boo back into the vale of tears. She and her owner appeared on “The Tonight Show” in March to recount their ordeal. She passed again in May, apparently of natural causes, and wasn’t found in time for further heroic measures to do any good. Rumors that it was suicide were rife in Arkadelphia, but outside of Clark County vast indifference ruled.
As the Little Rock murder rate soared in April, Mayor Jim Dailey called a news conference to announce that residents needed to find a way to resolve their differences that didn’t involve shooting one another. Duh, Mayor.
In a book published in May, John Daly, the Dardanelle golfer, allowed as how, having gambled away between $50 million and $60 million in recent years, he might indeed have a gambling problem. Duh, Big John.
That stop-the-murders news conference of the mayor’s was interrupted by news of another homicide.
One of the denominational papers carried an article about Pastor Ronnie Floyd of Springdale and his unsuccessful campaign in June to head up the Southern Baptist Convention. The article told of Pastor Ronnie’s gigantic church and of some of its wretched excesses, including a high-dollar children’s baptistry made to resemble a toy firetruck. The article went on to say: “The unique baptistry, created by Disney designer Bruce Barry, is part of a $270,000 high-tech project for the church’s children’s worship area that includes video games, a light show, music videos and a bubble machine, according to Christianity Today. When a child is baptized in the firetruck-shaped baptistry, sirens blare and confetti is shot out of cannons.”
Past Huckabisms that earned top billing here were eating whole Velveeta loaves in one bite without even chewing them (OK, this is a slight exaggeration, but the rest aren’t), encouraging and accepting lavish gifts from any and all donors, freeing dangerous criminals for considerations never made known, and writing laughably bad and cryably overpriced books that fall apart when you even look at them wrong. This year it was allowing grateful appointees and toady underlings to name state projects, resources, and facilities for him and his wife. The practice got so common that a week in late August was officially proclaimed the Nothing Named for Me or the Ma’am This Week Week. How did we get by without their mugs on the Arkansas quarter?
Federal Judge Bill Wilson of Little Rock was obliged in November to rule one way or another in the case of the Dueling Lamp-Base Bubba Monkeys. Don’t ask.
The 72-year-old mayor of Waldron was accused in May of propositioning two women by offering to fix their overdue water bills if they’d have sex with him.
The Arkansas legislature did its part to extinguish cigarette smoking from 21st-century daily life by enacting a law during a special session in April to ban smoking in most public places in the state. It also enacted a law to protect small children in automobiles from second-hand smoke produced by their elders.
Just as the stickiest part of summer was starting, a deodorant maker ranked Little Rock as the 21st-sweatiest city in the United States.
Cloudy and cool with showers on July 27 after an especially torrid midsummer stretch. A much-needed soaking rain that evening. Next day was halfway pleasant too.
In the annual Best of Arkansas voting in the Arkansas Times in July, readers of this newspaper — that would be you — chose the semi-literate sports editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette as the best newspaper columnist. Maybe you were just kidding. Maybe only idiots voted in that category. Maybe we’ve vastly overestimated our readership for lo these many years. Or maybe poorly executed puerile nonsense really is your cup of tea. Jeez, people.
Gasoline pump prices dropped steadily from $3 a gallon in the spring to $2 a gallon as the Nov. 7 election neared. Just a coincidence, Republicans and the oil companies said. Also a coincidence that they started going up again just after the election.
A research firm in Washington in October ranked U.S. senators by their relative clout or influence, and bottoming out the list at No. 100, less influential than any other senator, was Mark Pryor of Arkansas. His party’s recapturing of Congress in November might raise him a notch or two in 2007.
The U.S. Supreme Court refused in March to hear a plea from former Gov. Jim Guy Tucker of Arkansas that he was wrongfully convicted, in the infamous Kenneth Starr Whitewater probe, of violating a law that didn’t even exist at the time.
Best horse, Best rider
Horse: Lawyer Ron, a blossomed claimer, followed Afleet Alex and Smarty Jones in sweeping the major stakes races for 3-year-old thoroughbreds during the spring meeting at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs. Lawyer Ron was a favorite in the Kentucky Derby in May but ran poorly, and bone chips were found subsequently, their removal requiring him to miss much of the rest of the racing season.
Rider: Beverly Burress, a scrappy apprentice jockey, still just a kid at age 20, held her own with the big boys — well, figuratively speaking, they’re big — in the competition for leading rider at Oaklawn Park this spring. With 30 victories, she finished tied for fourth among Oaklawn riders, with more wins than Robby Albarado or Calvin Borel, one or the other of whom usually wins the Oaklawn riding title, and more also than Stewart Elliott, who rode Smarty Jones and Afleet Alex, and more than John McKee, who was Lawyer Ron’s regular pilot.
When religious extremists in South Dakota in March passed a brutish law to ban abortions with virtually no exceptions for rape, incest, or any other horror, Gov. Huckabee, hustling presidential support in nearby Iowa, suggested he would’ve signed similar legislation in Arkansas, saying: “I’m unabashedly pro-life, so any time we move the ball in the direction of protecting innocent and unborn human life, it’s a good thing.” Creepy.
A name in the Bankruptcy Watch column in the local daily newspaper in October was Dale Elmo Teets.
Colette Honorable went to work as chief of staff for Atty. Gen. Mike Beebe in February. Always good to have Honorable people working in the government.
An obituary in the Northwest Arkansas papers in February listed the death of one Franklin Six, whose late father was named Groundhog Six.
Best portrait of ordinary life in Texarkana
A naked man broke into a house in Texarkana in September and told the female residents that he was on a secret assignment to have sex with them. They called police. He stole a pair of shoes and fled in them, and police caught him in a nearby field a short time later, shod but otherwise stitchless, chasing a horse on which he said he was hoping to make his escape.
Best egg rush
It took thousands of kids just six minutes to find and snatch up more than 8,000 eggs hidden on the grounds of the Clinton Library in Little Rock during Easter week in April.
Tucker Carlson, the conservative yapper and former editorial writer at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was the first of the male kidding-themselves aspirants voted off of “Dancing With the Stars” in September. Right-wing, but two left feet.
Far and away the all-time champion grabbers, the Huckabees, Mike and Janet, used the bridal registries at Dillard’s and Target in November to encourage expensive housewarming gifts when they move next month from the Mansion to unsubsidized Dogtown squattery. Still unanswered is the whereabouts of all that Mansion furniture.
In order to win the Arkansas-Alabama football game in September, the Razorbacks needed the Alabama kicker to miss three field goals and an extra point, and he did. Afterward, Arkansas coach Houston Nutt led cheers as if Arkansas had earned the victory, and the Alabama kid went home and attempted suicide (or so the chatboard mythmakers had it).
Lt. Gov. Winthrop Paul Rockefeller, known as a politician of integrity, beholden to none, with no enemies in either party, died in July. He wasn’t beloved as his father had been, but he was beliked by just about everyone. If anyone could have staved off the disaster that the state Republican Party suffered in November, it would’ve been Win.
Faith-based KARK-TV, Channel 4, was only one of two NBC TV stations in America to turn its programming decision-making over to religious extremists in January, refusing to broadcast a new NBC comedy series, “The Book of Daniel,” because its Jesus character wasn’t Jesusy enough.
The state Supreme Court ruled in June that state regulators shouldn’t disqualify prospective foster parents for sexual preference unless they had evidence that it might cause harm to the adopted children. There was no such evidence, of course. The justices ruled unanimously, despite intense anti-gay pressure from the state’s top-tier politicians, who immediately began demagoguing for remedial legislation. It will undoubtedly be enacted and signed into law before spring.
USA Today reported in May that drivers in two-thirds of fatal car wrecks in Arkansas in a recent study weren’t wearing seat belts.
A rare spell of warm, dry winter weather set in at Christmas last year, and got the New Year started on a bright note with mild, sunny days. Winter never did show up in January ’06, our balmiest Enero ever. There wasn’t a single harsh January day.
Nonetheless, the hands-down aught-six winner of the title of Best Month was balmy beautiful November. And the Best Week, hard to believe, was in mid-December, when Arkansas is usually sheeted with ice. This year’s mid-December featured perfect golfing, fishing, and yardwork weather. Man, it was great.
The third week in July was just a son-of-a-bitch, as usual. The first three weeks of August were might near as bad.
Best October surprise
The best October surprise in this year’s election campaign was that there wasn’t one.
The city of Cabot, original home of white flight, refused to go along with the rest of the country in celebrating Jan. 16 as a holiday commemorating Martin Luther King’s birthday. “There’s only a certain amount of holidays that Cabot observes,” Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh said. Meaning, all the rest of them.
Best guess what that lapel bulge was
On a call-in TV show in January Gov. Huckabee seemed to suggest that he had gone to packing, that is, carrying a concealed gun. He wouldn’t come right out and say he was packing, but he said he’d got a permit, and he endorsed Florida legislation that immunizes from prosecution minding-their-own-business packers who blow away anybody who messes with them.
Worst insult to real American heroes
Gov. Huckabee went to Iraq in January, and told Arkansas troops there that their service was as important and heroic as that of American soldiers in the Normandy invasion in World War II. Nobody present thought to slap him upside the head Patton-style, and say, “What the hell are you talking about?”
The 17 of them bestowed on us July 17 by Mr. Joe B. Fowlkes, from his garden.
Gov. Huckabee was quoted in all the major news media in June as saying this about how he planned to raise money for his presidential campaign: ‘I’ve got a map of 7-11s, a bunch of blue steel revolvers, and some ski masks. We’re going to go all over the country and raise money in a very unique way.”
• Ann Coulter, the conservative columnist and wannabe Joe McCarthy moll, told a Little Rock college audience in January that someone should put rat poison in Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens’ coffee. She explained later that this was just a joke. About as funny as her subsequent one regretting that Timothy McVeigh got caught before he had a chance to take another fertilizer truck to New York and park it outside the New York Times.
• The entire state Republican general election slate.
Best and Worst turnouts
Best: One precinct in Benton County showed a voter turnout in the general election in November of 103 percent. Impressive, if not quite possible. Vote totals for the county showed 86 percent of registered voters casting ballots. Possible but highly improbable. Poor voting machine functioning, poor counting co-ordination, and perhaps chicanery on a rather large scale were nominated as explanations.
Worst: Four out of five Arkansas voters skipped the primary elections in May, and local races were thought to have attracted most of those who did bother to vote.
The Coalition for Arkansas’ Future, a dummy campaign-finance vehicle fueled by a big grant from the state Republican Party, conducted a smear campaign, most of it gay-bashing, in 10 state legislative races and some local Faulkner County races, and every single one of the candidates it promoted lost, and every single one of the candidates it attacked won.
Danielle Evans of Little Rock was named America’s Next Top Model in a reality-TV competition sponsored by one of the big networks.
Best gay tourism destination
The New York Times in July named Eureka Springs as one of four “up-and-coming” favorite tourism destinations in the country for vacationing gay people.
Little Rock had the third highest incidence of migraine headaches among American metropolitan areas, behind only Cincinnati, Ohio; and Madison, Wis., according to a drug company study published in July.
No, it wasn’t a typo. Cost of those FEMA trailers dumped into the muddy field at Hope was three hundred million dollars. Your tax money at work.
The Watson Chapel School Board at Pine Bluff inspired rowdy protests from students and parents in September when administrators started suspending students, including honor students, for such ticky dress-code violations as a belt buckle deemed too ornate and “improper stitching” on the pant cuffs of a uniform. More students were suspended subsequently for wearing black-string “armbands” in protest. It took a federal court to persuade the school officials to back off.
Best turn of foot
In appreciation of something or other, the state Republican Party in January gave Gov. Huckabee a $3,700 pair of cowboy boots.
Worst road rage
A rude gesture during a merge onto I-630 at Fair Park led to a high-speed chase in October during which a Little Rock driver shot at another Little Rock driver with a high-powered deer-hunting crossbow.
• Also in October, on Interstate 30 near Gurdon, the driver of a Louisiana hearse with a body in the back en route to autopsy was accused of waving a pistol at a woman and her small children in a car in the next lane and trying to run that car off the road. Authorities said road rage made him do it.
Worst voting machine
Might have been the one at Waldenburg which tallied zero votes for mayoral candidate Randy Wooten in the general election in November, though Wooten knew that he’d voted for himself, and was pretty sure that his wife had voted for him.
Best or worst euphemism
An obituary in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in December reported the death of a Conway infant by saying he “has gone to play Patty Cake with Jesus.”
East Poinsett County 73, Hughes 72 —high school football at Lepanto, Oct. 13.