opinion by Maylon Rice
Editor’s note: Maylon Rice is a former newspaper reporter, columnist and editor at several newspapers over the past 40 years. He ran, unsuccessfully for the Arkansas House of Representatives in 2012. A native of Warren, Rice lives in Fayetteville.
Opinions, commentary and other essays posted in this space are wholly the view of the author(s). They may not represent the opinion of the owners of The City Wire.
Another one of the “good guys” in the arena of governmental affairs in Arkansas has retired. Carmie Henry, the vice president of governmental affairs, (a fancy name for a guy with lot of different hats to wear) for the Arkansas Electric Cooperatives, penned his final “Capitol Buzz” column this month.
Henry, who has worked for former U.S. Sens. Dale Bumpers, David Pryor and Blanche Lincoln, has done more for Arkansas than can be recounted in these short words. He is, well, a prince of a fellow.
Joining the Arkansas Electric Cooperatives in August 1997, Henry was a staff member of the United States Senate Committee on Appropriations. He perhaps knows more about the financial workings of the United States Congress than most anyone we have met outside of the Washington D.C. Beltway. Henry, according to the AEC website, has more than 22 years of experience on the staffs of three United States senators and an Arkansas Secretary of State. He received a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Central Arkansas, and is a retired Naval flight officer with the rank of captain.
And as a governmental affairs guy walking the halls of the state capitol in Little Rock, Carmie has seldom seen an initiative benefitting Arkansas that he was not “elbows deep” in making certain the information on the program got out to the general public. He did more, much more, than whisper legislative suggestions in the ears of politicians.
He wrote a popular, one-page column which appeared in every issue of Arkansas Living magazine, formerly called Rural Arkansas. The magazine is sent to each member of the rural electrical cooperatives in the state. That’s an audience of about 383,000 each month. It’s quite an audience, but only if one has something to say and an interesting way to say it.
Carmie, fortunately, has both.
Folks knew Carmie for his down-home humor and plain-talk about the facts on complex issues. He knew about bills pending in the Congress, tax initiatives, the glacier- like political process, and even those ever-so-delicate U.S. Senate deliberations. Henry, in his standard 600 or so words each month, shined a bright light of understanding on these and other complex topics, but never lost the touch for the common man and rate-payer.
He often wrote far better than anyone of the state press (and even those who cover the complex federal goings on). State politicians couldn’t deliver the same message in twice as many words. His columns were often quoted, as if Scripture, by politicians trying to hone in on a particular point standing at the “well” of the House or behind an antique rostrum in the U.S. Senate.
“We are in governmental affairs to win issues, not to compromise away our beliefs, not to somehow get along to go along," Henry once noted in a column. "We are not looking to draw the line in the sand on everything; we draw the line in the sand on things that are important to us. When we are right, we just stick with it and win.”
Always proud of his roots and upbringing, Henry was proud to have attended Arkansas State Teachers College, now known as UCA. Along the way, he fell deep into the traces of public service. Henry learned to translate public balance sheets and budgets into words, informing his audience of the looming realities of the finances set before them by the U.S. Congress or the Arkansas Legislature.
He was also an enthusiastic supporter of “campaign schools” for the novice wanting to leap into the political arena. Henry often said: “If one knew of all the rules, ethics, and protocols, there would not be more politicians, but better politicians.”
But more than tending a new crop of politicians at the state and federal level, Henry’s ever-present job was to support and educate the electric rate payers of the 17 electrical cooperatives of Arkansas.
“The job we have to do every day as cooperative employees to help people understand everything that go into ensuring that they have affordable and reliable electricity in their homes and businesses. No other utility – gas or electric – in the state of Arkansas is doing more to advance efficiency and renewable power for Arkansans than your local electric cooperative. Be proud.”
That’s the mantra Carmie Henry crafted and left for others to maintain, as he enters a well-deserved retirement here in our midst.