Favorite

The Class of '91 

With Knox Nelson ousted and Max Howell doddering, a new era dawns in State Senate

Knox Nelson will be home in Pine Bluff, tending the farm and his oil "bidness," as he always put it, when the Arkansas state legislature convenes later this month. Not since 1957 has the legislature met without his formidable presence.

Everyone agrees that things won't be the same at the Capitol without him. Nearly everyone adds, with all due respect, that things will be better.

That includes legislators like Senator Mike Beebe of Searcy, who professes his admiration of Nelson, but goes on to acknowledge that no man should ever have been able to wield the kind of power that Nelson did for the last couple of decades in the state Senate. Nelson alone controlled the disposition of proposed laws, determining the committees to which they were assigned, the time they would be brought to a vote, and whether they were voted on at all.

Max Howell of Jacksonville, who formed the other half of the Senate's longtime ruling tandem, will return to begin his 44th year. But he is nearly 80, he has lost his position as chairman of the Joint Budget Committee, and younger senators suggest he no longer bothers them. "Max is finished," claims one, though not for attribution, which suggests that as the Senate's senior member, even an old, toothless, and Knox-less Max is not to be trifled with unnecessarily.

Still, influence will now be more diversified in the Senate, and younger, ambitious members will have the chance to carve their own niches. If nothing else, it will look better to schoolkids in the galleries if there is some sort of published agenda lending a semblance of openness to the proceedings, as there never was during the Nelson era.

Indeed, more openness may have been the message the voters were sending in Arkansas in the 1990 mid-term elections. Nelson was waxed by another incumbent, Jay Bradford, in a primary forced by court-ordered redistricting. Bradford is the nearest thing to a liberal in the Senate, not counting a couple of incoming members from Little Rock, Vic Snyder and John Pagan. Bradford has supported higher taxes, school health clinics, and tougher ethics and accountability laws. He once made a speech to the Pine Bluff Rotary Club attacking Wal-Mart for using temporary employees and not providing benefits, such as health insurance, and lived to tell about it. He was co-chairman of the campaign ethics law approved overwhelmingly by the voters in November. In 1988 he co-sponsored legislation for a stricter code of ethics for legislators and passed by public initiative.

Nelson epitomized the opposite. Not only did he rule the Senate with an iron fist, he represented the highway contractors' association as executive director-consultant—paid lobbyist, in other words—a conflict of interest that remains legal in Arkansas despite all the new ethics laws.

Nelson is not the only departing figure. One-fifth of the Senate, seven of the 35 members, will not be returning. Some quit. Some, like Paul Benham of Marianna, were squeezed out by court-ordered redistricting to increase the chances of black representation. The Senate, which until this year had one black member, will now have three blacks. The House of Representatives will have four more blacks than it had last year.

Four senators met with defeat: Nelson, Benham, Kent Ingram of West Memphis, and Doug Brandon of Little Rock. They share few characteristics, but there are hints of a pattern. Nelson, Benham, and Ingram represented the Old South style of eastern Arkansas politics; they were white bosses. Nelson, Ingram, and Brandon formed a third of the nine-man coalition that refused in 1989 to go along with Governor Bill Clinton's income tax reform bill. Since the state Constitution provides that income taxes can't be raised without a three-fourths majority vote, those nine stopped the governor's tax-for-education program in its tracks.

Favorite

Speaking of...

  • The Rev. Rapert wants to rename Clinton airport

    November 29, 2016
    The Bro./Sen. Rapert has his panties in a wad over the fact that Little Rock's airport is named for Bill and Hillary Clinton, according to his morning Tweet. I guess he should head on over to the Little Rock Airport Commission and warn them the Ledge is about to take it over. /more/
  • The roots and legacy of Bill Clinton's 'abandonment' of organized labor

    November 28, 2016
    After the labor movement helped elect David Pryor, Dale Bumpers and Bill Clinton early in their careers, the three politicians took aggressive anti-union positions, Michael Pierce, an associate professor of history at the University of Arkansas, writes in a recent piece on The Labor and Working-Class History Association's Labor Online website. Pierce sees a connection between Clinton's early work against 1978's Labor Reform Bill (for the Pryor campaign), his later pro-business policies as governor and president and Hillary Clinton's struggles with working class whites. /more/
  • Bill Clinton was right

    November 17, 2016
    At the Arkansas Democratic Party's annual Jefferson-Jackson fundraiser in July, Bill Clinton gave the worst speech I've ever heard him give. /more/
  • Roosevelt Thompson memorialized at Yale

    November 15, 2016
    Yale University had its ceremony last week renaming a dining hall for the late Roosevelt Thompson, the Little Rock native and Central High graduate who died in a car wreck in 1984 shortly before leaving for a Rhodes Scholarship. /more/
  • Huckabee: 'Hillary ain't Bill'

    November 8, 2016
    Mike Huckabee closes out the presidential campaign with comments on the relative likability of Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton and vows reprisal against Republicans who didn't back Donald Trump. /more/
  • Breitbart airs 1980 assault complaint against Bill Clinton

    October 19, 2016
    A woman identified as Leslie Milwee, a  Fort Smith TV news reporter in 1980 when Bill Clinton was governor, has given an extended interview to Breitbart, a right-wing news outlet once headed by Stephen Bannon, the leader of Donald Trump's campaign, in which she said Clinton groped her sexually. /more/
  • Take a ‘Billgrimage’ in Arkansas

    October 10, 2016
    Bill and Hillary Clinton have strong ties to Arkansas. The airport in Little Rock was even renamed in honor of the couple. Bill Clinton, the nation’s 42nd president, was born in Hope, grew up in Hot Springs, married Hillary in Fayetteville, served as governor of Arkansas in Little Rock, and made acceptance and celebration speeches in the state when he was elected and re-elected as the U.S. president. /more/
  • No, Bill Clinton did not call Obamacare 'the craziest thing in the world'

    October 4, 2016
    No, despite many reports to the contrary, Bill Clinton did not say in a speech that Obamacare is the craziest thing in the world. There are crazy problems that need fixing, but he is not calling for an end to Obamacare. /more/
  • Sex and the White House

    October 4, 2016
    Ernest Dumas' column this week muses on Donald Trump's vow to make the race about Bill Clinton's history despite the fact that Trump is "the most debauched political candidate in the history of public licentiousness." /more/
  • Donald Trump declares war on Hillary Clinton's marriage

    October 1, 2016
    Donald Trump gave a remarkable interview to the New York Times yesterday in which he declared open season on the marriage of Bill and Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton's past infidelity. Seems like a loser, but I've been wrong before. /more/
  • More »

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by John Brummett

  • Obstruction is the preferred conservatism

    Is there greater conservative virtue in opposing federal health reform, period, or in saying it ought to be implemented locally instead of from Washington in the event we are unavoidably laden with it?
    • Oct 5, 2011
  • A fate not quite as bad as prison for Lu Hardin

    There is no crime in being overly and transparently solicitous for the purposes of aggrandizement and personal political advancement. That's simply acute neediness, a common and benign human frailty.
    • Sep 28, 2011
  • Can we talk? Can we get anywhere?

    Dialogue is good. It would be even better if someone would venture off script every once in a while.
    • Sep 21, 2011
  • More »

Readers also liked…

Most Shared

  • Department of Arkansas Heritage archeologist resigns

    Bob Scoggin, 50, the Department of Arkansas Heritage archeologist whose job it was to review the work of agencies, including DAH and the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, for possible impacts on historic properties, resigned from the agency on Monday. Multiple sources say Scoggin, whom they describe as an "exemplary" employee who the week before had completed an archeological project on DAH property, was told he would be fired if he did not resign.
  • Rapert compares Bill Clinton to Orval Faubus

    Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway)  was on "Capitol View" on KARK, Channel 4, this morning, and among other things that will likely inspire you to yell at your computer screen, he said he expects someone in the legislature to file a bill to do ... something about changing the name of the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport.
  • Forget identity politics

    Amid the climate of disbelief and fear among Democrats following Donald Trump's election, a fascinating debate has broken out about what's called "identity politics" on the left, "political correctness" by the right.
  • Lawsuit filed against ADC officials, prison chaplain convicted of sexual assault at McPherson

    A former inmate who claims she was sexually assaulted over 70 times by former McPherson Womens' Unit chaplain Kenneth Dewitt has filed a federal lawsuit against Dewitt, several staff members at the prison, and officials with the Arkansas Department of Corrections, including former director Ray Hobbs.
  • Lessons from Standing Rock

    A Fayetteville resident joins the 'water protectors' allied against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Latest in Cover Stories

  • Vive la resistance!

    House Minority Leader Michael John Gray wants to chair the Democratic Party of Arkansas. His plan to lead the party back to relevance: Start listening to Arkansas again.
    • Dec 1, 2016
  • A new day for child welfare?

    After strategizing for months, DHS officials have a plan to address Arkansas's foster care crisis.
    • Nov 24, 2016
  • Jeff Nichols, 'Loving' and the space in between

    The Little Rock native turns to an unheralded chapter of the civil rights era with his new film.
    • Nov 17, 2016
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

Arkansas remembers Pearl Harbor

Arkansas remembers Pearl Harbor

Central Arkansas venues have a full week of commemorative events planned

Event Calendar

« »

December

S M T W T F S
  1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 31

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: A killing in Pocahontas

    • my name is kimberly some parts are true some are not travis was a victum…

    • on December 4, 2016
  • Re: Vive la resistance!

    • We are not asking you to place a stent in the Democrats Heart nor to…

    • on December 4, 2016
  • Re: Vive la resistance!

    • Finally! A young person who is truly interested in listening to the working people of…

    • on December 4, 2016
 

© 2016 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation