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My pal the opportunist 

This is the kind of thing that can happen when you take a newspaper opinion columnist and elect him to responsible public office.

You wind up arguing about what the state's nickname ought to be.

You remember David Sanders. He was my foil, or I his.

Our newspaper company thought I needed to be counterbalanced since I was so dad-blamed moderate. So the higher-ups brought in young David to balance my reasoned moderation with his arch-conservatism.

He was fresh off Gov. Mike Huckabee's staff and, before that, he had been the press secretary for the U.S. Senate campaign of the original Boozman, the late Fay.

Sanders and I had our ups-and-downs over the decade, but we are on an up lately, getting along handsomely. I always told him electoral politics was better-suited for him than newspaper columnizing.

One thing that happened in the course of his campaigning door-to-door in that suburban Pulaski County/Hot Springs Village district that he will now serve as state representative was that he encountered my mother and sister. Alas, they came to adore him, seeing him perhaps as the conservative son and brother they wish they'd had.

The fact of the matter is that Sanders will be one of the brighter and better Republican insurgents in the state Legislature next year. He has been working quietly — with others, mind you — to steer the Republican caucus toward ethics reform legislation. As you know, I encourage and applaud those efforts.

So it was with a heavy heart that I saw on Wednesday that Sanders had filed a bill to change the official nickname of Arkansas from "The Natural State" back to the "Land of Opportunity" that the nickname once was.

I sensed immediately what was afoot: Sanders disdained a nickname that extolled the environment over economic growth — water quality over enriching gas drilling, for example — and would apply his conservative economic principles to try to get us called something more in line with his Club for Growth-ish beliefs.

Sanders used to write columns about how global warming wasn't.

I sent him a hot e-mail and he called and said, hey, I promised this in my campaign and some left-leaning Democrats — Hendrix professor Jay Barth and Clinton School dean Skip Rutherford — agree with him.

But making a goofy promise in a campaign is no excuse for a waste of time as a legislator, and, anyway, who cares what two tired old liberals think?

Sanders says he is not against nature, but that he is wholly for personal opportunity. These are not matters of philosophy, he says, but matters of emphasis. Personal opportunity is a broader, grander concept, he believes.

He called the next day to express amazement. He had been told that some critics were saying that his proposal was based in his fundamentalist religion — that he thinks it is wrong to worship nature and not God.

He was absolutely floored by such nonsense, he said, even as I so expertly explained how some people might hold that view that I had to stop myself short lest I start believing it myself.

Anyway, let me give you my two-pronged view of this issue:

1. A state nickname is a trivial matter unworthy of serious policy discussion and Sanders ought to be booted in the behind for filing this silly bill. We once called ourselves the Wonder State, though I never knew what it was we were wondering about. I seem to recall that we once went by the Bear State, as if having more bears than people from Helena south to Arkansas City was something to advertise.

2. We are not a natural state. Quite the contrary, our lakes are mostly man-made. Our economy is based on altering the natural landscape to farm it, irrigate it, clear-cut it and drill into it.

So I say pass this nonsense and get it the heck over with.

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