story and photos by Ryan Saylor
For the first time in seven years, the Democratic Party of Arkansas on Saturday (Sept. 14) held their quarterly state committee meeting in Northwest Arkansas. The meeting, held at the Northwest Arkansas Convention Center in Springdale reflected on the past while also looking to the future with the election of Vincent Insalaco as DPA chairman, replacing Will Bond as the party looks to the 2014 general election.
In accepting the chairmanship, Insalaco was clear that he was planning on giving Republicans the fight of their lives as Democrats fight to regain control of the General Assembly, which the Republican Party won control of during last year's election for the first time since Reconstruction.
"They haven't won by talking about social security. They haven't won by talking about Medicare or Medicaid. And if we allow them to do it again it's our own fault, and I'm not going to have anything to do with that," he said.
Insalaco said the key to a Democratic victory next year will be localizing the elections to issues being faced by citizens and communities across Arkansas, not talking points handed down from out of state interests in Washington, D.C.
He also said that he fully expects outside interests to attempt to buy the election for Republican candidates.
"We also have to recognize that we're going to get outspent, a lot, and not by money from Arkansans. Do you honestly think all that money's coming in here from Washington because they give a damn about our people? We have got to collectively recognize that this is going to be a battle and it's going to require a huge ground game."
Speaking about his time as chairman, Bond said that he was proud of his time as chairman, marking a little over two years in the top job.
Bond recalled taking the job with a lot less experience than Insalaco, who has been involved with Democratic politics for decades. But he despite his lack of experience compared to other chairmen past and now present, he was able to lead the party to a smaller loss in 2012 than was experienced with what was known as the Republican wave of 2010. Something he said was due to the hard work of the DPA staff.
"It takes a tremendous amount of personal commitment and they're all underpaid and they're all over worked and my thanks goes to them. … thank you," he told the staff and members of the parties as he began to choke up.
This morning's meeting also saw many political speeches, including one by former U.S. Rep. Mike Ross, D-Prescott, a candidate for governor who is started to come out even harder against presumed Republican nominee Asa Hutchinson, a former 3rd District Congressman and a former undersecretary of Homeland Security during the administration of President George W. Bush.
The attacks this morning attacked what Ross said were Hutchinson's "flip flops" on several different issues.
"We don't need a governor who's going to take us backward. We don't need a governor who's going to flip flop on issues. Asa has already flip flopped on the private option, on taxes, on minimum wage. If you think about it, it's a good thing that he spells his name A-S-A frontward and backward because he flips flops so much," Ross said to a raucous crowd.
Following the state committee meeting in Springdale and the Razorback-Southern Mississippi football game in Fayetteville, many of the candidates for statewide Democratic office made their way to the tiny town of Little Flock in Benton County for the annual Democratic picnic, which Benton County Democratic Central Committee Chairman Mike Brown said was in its 47th year.
The event gave candidates a chance to meet personally with constituents in a county many consider safe Republican territory, an assumption Brown took challenged.
"We had more votes for Mike Beebe than any other county except Pulaski County, so there are a lot of Democrats up here but the population has grown," he said, adding that the influx of vendors and others from out of state working at Walmart and their vendors should continue to alter the political makeup of Benton County.
One of the candidates to meet with voters was Rep. Nate Steel, D-Nashville, the presumed Democratic nominee for attorney general. Steel said the position of attorney general is one that he viewed as a more non-partisan position, working for all Arkansans instead of for a single group.
"I'm certainly proud to be a Democrat, but I've worked across the aisle a lot during my legislative time and I've always prided myself on doing what I think is right regardless of what party leaders or the politics of the situation may be," he said.
He said it also takes someone who can call "balls and strikes" when you see them regardless of what the politics may be.
Highway Commissioner John Burkhalter, who is the presumed nominee for lieutenant governor, said he was concerned about current ethics issues facing Lt. Gov. Mark Darr, who dropped out of the race for Congress in the 4th District after only 17 days following revelations first made public by the blue Blue Hog Report which highlighted questionable spending by Darr's 2010 campaign for the office, including clothes purchases labeled as "supplies."
Burkhalter said that the Ethics Commission should have the ability to do more auditing, instead of relying on the current complaint-driven model.
"I think it would give us the opportunity to find issues and problems and possible patterns of abuse early on instead of later. And I think it's extremely important for anyone that serves the public that they need to have extremely high ethics," he said. "I think people make mistakes. Legitimate mistakes. But repeated violations, repeated issues. We need the ability to audit that and improve on this system."