Former Times writer Warwick Sabin is our readers' choice as Best Liberal and the runner-up as Best Politician. Not hard to see why: Sabin was one of the strongest (hell, at times one of the only) progressive voices in the legislature, and was one of the most active and effective freshmen in either party. We sat down with Sabin to get his take on what progressive politicians can do in a state that seems to be trending dead-red conservative.
AT: What's the role of a progressive voice in a reddening state?
Sabin: I look at myself as a pragmatic progressive. I think there's a strong tradition of that in Arkansas, in both parties. When you look back at the legacy of Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, even when you look at some of the things that Gov. Huckabee did while he was governor. That speaks to one of the points I would make — the truth is, Arkansas has always been a moderate state. The people here care about common-sense, practical values as they're applied to politics and how we run our government. We tend to resist extremes or radical politics on either side. Arkansas obviously resisted the trends that brought the rest of the South to the Republican Party over the last few decades. There have been a lot of indications that Arkansas would go Republican several times in the past and those never panned out. ... That tide receded. We're in another position right now, obviously the Republicans have made some gains. What we saw happen during the last session, I think it has thrown up some red flags about what kind of governance may come with a permanent Republican majority in the legislature. That is more extreme than most of us are comfortable with. I feel like, as a progressive in Arkansas, I'm actually standing up for the pragmatic moderate political values that most of us here in the state want and tend to agree with, whether that's on economics or other issues.
AT: So part of your role as a progressive is to push back against more extreme voices?
Sabin: I would say so. I consider myself a Democrat in the mold of Dale Bumpers, Bill Clinton and David Pryor. These are people who gained the trust of people in the state and they stood up for moderate progressive political values in the face of, many times, extreme attacks on basic government services that most of us agree ought to be in place.
AT: The Republican party of today is not exactly the party of Win Rockefeller.
Sabin: Not at all. Not even close. All of us in Arkansas tend to care less about party than about the person, the candidate, the public official and what values they embody and promote. Being a Democrat or a Republican becomes less relevant. The only time it becomes relevant is when people try to attach themselves strongly to a party identity with the intention of pushing an ideological agenda. I think that's something that most of us in Arkansas tend to resist and tend to be repelled by.
AT: What about the role of the minority party in the legislature?
Sabin: The 51-vote majority only becomes relevant if all 51 votes can be held together on any given issue. I think the role of the minority party is to be very active and look for areas of compromise and middle ground. Because that's where a lot of the real work can get done. This is not like the U.S. Senate where you have a filibuster and it takes 60 votes to pass something and therefore the minority can just hold things up. When you have a 51-vote majority, again you have to assume it's very difficult for that party to keep the 51 together, so there are always opportunities to propose compromises and middle-ground solutions and allow the moderate forces in both parties to drive the ultimate outcome of any piece of legislation.
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