The bond battle 

I was wrong. I believed Gov. Mike Huckabee when he predicted passage of the two proposed bond issues, for highways and colleges, on last week’s ballot.

Huckabee had a great sales pitch — a free lunch. Better interstates and better colleges at no cost was the cry.

On the other side, you had truckers (who likes them?) who said the governor wanted to take the ballot from voters and give it to the Highway Commission. This was not a compelling argument to me. We already trust the Highway Commission with enormous discretion. More compelling was the fact that, because of how we piecemeal our road construction, bond financing doesn’t gain many advantages in speed and costs a lot more than paying as you go. But nobody talked much about that.

I thought the highway bonds would pass by a close vote. I thought the college bonds would pass easily. Instead, they failed by about 600 votes. And in them hangs, again, my oft-told tale of the sophisticated Arkansas voter.

Yes, antagonism to the highway bonds washed over on the college bonds to some degree. Yes, some people voted against both because Huckabee was behind them. Yes, many college employees didn’t bother to turn out because the specific projects didn’t benefit them. Yes, the UA’s billion-dollar fund campaign, the huge sums spent on athletic facilities and coaches and the past decade of inflation-busting tuition increases tamped down the enthusiasm for shoveling still more money to colleges.

But, clearly, voters did draw distinctions. About 11,000 more voted in favor of the college bonds than the highway bonds. Pulaski County, where media campaigns were pervasive, smashed the highway bonds but handily endorsed the college bonds. So much for Huckabee’s theory that confusion about the highway bonds hurt both proposals.

I don’t think voters were confused. The highway bond proposal — even Huckabee admitted this election night — authorized a new revolving credit line for highway debt. Some voters REALLY don’t like that. The proposal also promised an increasing state debt burden without any guarantee that federal money would pay it off. There also was no emergency. No new work would have begun for at least five years. Also, many voters live miles from interstate highways, sole beneficiaries of the bonds.

Voters are far more inclined to favor specific projects, as outlined in the college bond proposal. They also retain a generally positive outlook toward colleges. But the advertising campaign was mostly about highways, on account of the truck lobby’s opposition. Huckabee’s heavy-handed pressure on the UA Board to back the highway bonds turned at least a few more voters sour on the college bonds, too. With a 600-vote margin, every vote counted.

The election probably indicates that voters have tired of the long-time incumbent governor. That’s not surprising. It won’t hurt Huckabee nationally, any more than it hurt Bill Clinton. It might even help that Huckabee can’t now be branded the architect of a huge increase in government debt. But entering his final year in office, he can no longer say he’s a guy who always gets things done.

The governor’s twin failure wasn’t because voters were stupid or misled. He does himself no service by suggesting it. Voters absorb information about issues and make decisions informed by that knowledge. Snappy putdowns of the opposition don’t overcome that bedrock fact. Voters nearly always get exactly what they want. And deserve.


Sign up for the Daily Update email


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

  • LR charter school application withdrawn for this year

    Friendship Aspire Academy has withdrawn its request to move up plans to open a charter school in Little Rock by a year to take advantage of a vacant building being remodeled by the Walton Family Foundation for another charter operator that withdrew.
    • Jun 20, 2018
  • Another prison death under investigation

    John Howell, 58, who was serving a life sentence for capital murder in Garland County, died shortly before 7 p.m. Tuesday after being found unresponsive on the floor of his barracks at the Cummins Unit, a spokesman said.
    • Jun 20, 2018
  • With Trump, of course, there's a catch

    So the heroic Donald Trump proposes a compromise to tearing families apart - jailing them indefinitely.
    • Jun 20, 2018
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Double-talk

    A couple of instances of doublespeak cropped up in Little Rock over the weekend.
    • Jun 29, 2017
  • Along the civil rights trail

    A convergence of events in recent days signaled again how far we have come and how far we have yet to go in civil rights.
    • Jan 18, 2018
  • The Oval outhouse

    One thing all Americans finally can agree upon is that public discourse has coarsened irretrievably in the era of Donald Trump and largely at his instance.
    • Jan 18, 2018

Latest in Max Brantley

  • The Arkansas swamp

    The Arkansas Capitol is a fetid swamp of corruption and the bipartisan lack of concern tells you plenty.
    • Jun 14, 2018
  • The return of 'Freedom of Choice'

    A federal court in El Dorado soon will decide if unalloyed "Freedom of Choice" may be legal state policy, even when it encourages school segregation.
    • Jun 7, 2018
  • Election trends

    Items of interest that emerged from primary and "nonpartisan" judicial elections last week.
    • May 31, 2018
  • More »

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Him, again

    • That's why it is better to bag babes at the bigger libraries. You get a…

    • on June 20, 2018
  • Re: Legislative boodlers

    • The U6 unemployment rate is still at 8%, partly because they can get benefits and…

    • on June 19, 2018
  • Re: Him, again

    • Regardless of my success or lack of it, I've been way ahead of Trump all…

    • on June 19, 2018

© 2018 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation