The Beebe legacy: 'Can-do.' Also: taking care of friends | Arkansas Blog

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Beebe legacy: 'Can-do.' Also: taking care of friends

Posted By on Sun, Jan 12, 2014 at 8:14 AM

With a year left in his tenure as governor, Mike Beebe sat down with John Lyon of Stephens Media to talk about his legacy. A better measure of that legacy might come after the fiscal session next month. Will  tea-bag-toting Republican insurgents bring down the Obamacare Medicaid expansion in Arkansas and, in the process, dump a a sufficient but not deluxe budget inclusive of cherished tax cuts into the Arkansas River?

Beebe assesses his record this way:

“I hope, if you had to narrow it down to one thing, if you were just forced to, it wouldn’t be any specific thing we’ve done, it would be an overall attitude of can-do across the board, of a good kind of pride — not the foolish kind of pride but a good kind of pride, and a good kind of swagger, not a bad kind of swagger but a kind of self-confidence that Arkansans can stand up to and compete with anybody else,” he said.

The article mentions — irony? paradox? cognitive dissonance? — that the legislature changed from Democratic to Republican during the Beebe years, despite Beebe's continued high popularity. That's legacy, too, isn't it?

Life after government might include service on a "board or two," Beebe says.  It will be interesting if those appointing him to boards were also campaign contributors and recipients of state help.

THAT WAS THEN: Barack Obama at rally for Mike Beebe in 2006.
  • THAT WAS THEN: Barack Obama at rally for Mike Beebe in 2006.
The  governor does look after his friends, as governors generally do.

Just today, a business note in the Democrat-Gazette caught my eye. It reported that the governor had sent $500,000 from his quick action closing fund to allow Soul of the South Television, a cable network with programming aimed at a black audience, to buy a building in Little Rock to establish a newsroom necessary to make the network a "must-carry" on cable systems. Soul of the South was founded by, among others, Richard Mays, a Little Rock lawyer and stout political supporter of the governor.  Mays has figured in several other state business deals during the Beebe years. You might recall some real estate matters related to a Beebe agency head, former Sen. Bill Walker. Mays is also, by Beebe appointment, co-chair of the state Claims Commission, a paying job.

When Beebe ran for his first term, as a state senator from Searcy, he didn't start with a built-in African-American base as some Democratic politicians do. Those who joined him early on, such as Walker and Mays, were important in his electoral success. You don't hear much about it now, but part of the outreach was bringing a young U.S. senator to Little Rock for a rally for Beebe. Name of Barack Obama. He hasn't been back since but key black political figures from Arkansas were on hand that day.

When Soul of the South launched last May, Arkansas Business reported that it was supported by a $10 million investment from  the Arkansas Development Finance Authority, the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and Arkansas Capital Corp. Larry Morton, described as "chief strategic officer" of Soul of the South, was CEO of Equity Broadcasting, whose former headquarters is being purchased with the state money. Equity, which targeted Asian and Hispanic markets in large cities, filed for bankruptcy in 2008 and auctioned its stations the next year.

UPDATE: In going over the terms of the state's support of this investment, AEDC Director Grant Tennille told me Monday that it had been in the works long before a request was made to the governor for quick-closing money and the governor had no involvement in it and likely was unaware of Mays' involvement.

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