Jobs, jobs, jobs.
That was the pre-election mantra of these heady Republicans who knew they were within striking distance of capturing the keys to the Arkansas lawmaking engine.
It was a rare pre-election interview in which you would hear a GOP legislative candidate talk something other than jobs and tax reform and jobs and shrinking the size of government and jobs and making Arkansas more competitive with neighboring states and jobs. Five of six talking points – the SIMPLE Plan – among GOP House candidates focused on economic, education and competitive issues.
Republicans eventually won majorities in the Arkansas House and Senate for the first time in more than 138 years. With the election of Rep. Davy Carter, R-Cabot, as House Speaker, and Sen. Michael Lamoureux, R-Russellville, as Senate President, it appeared the GOP was serious about being conservative and responsible stewards of the Legislature’s historic budgetary and lawmaking duties.
But the post election action has been anything but jobs and responsible lawmaking and shrinking the size of government.
More than a month into the session, there is no substantive or sustained discussion of legislation involving tax reform, economic competitiveness and jobs. In fact, there is a small but vocal cabal challenging the job-delivering success of Gov. Mike Beebe. Odd.
Instead, grabbing headlines and consuming legislative energies are bills to limit abortion and expand pro-gun laws. The one social issue plank in the six-point pre-election strategy has dominated the other points. Economics have proven no match for evangelism.
The episode is a reminder that political pragmatism provides little room for true leadership. The best way to build in 2014 upon the success of the 2012 election cycle is through pandering; give the masses what they want; unabashedly inject theocracy into state law. Any legislator who dares vote against anti-abortion or pro-gun laws – no matter how poorly crafted or considered is the language – will be the target of out-of-state funded mailers during the 2014 election cycle.
This is not a comment for or against the Legislature as an appropriate debate venue for social issues. This is a reminder that our state economy really should receive the attention it was promised prior to the election.
Job numbers in Arkansas have improved in the past few years, but we remain behind pre-recession (2008) levels. The number of unemployed in Arkansas remain 8.6% greater as of December 2012 than it was in December 2008. The number of employed as of December 2012 was 1.258 million, 1.7% fewer than the 1.281 million in December 2012. Also concerning is that the number of employed in December 2012 was below the 1.271 million in December 2011.
Also, these pandering legislators may consider the recently released “National Agenda Survey” that clearly indicated social issues are at the bottom of the to-do list among, presumably, Arkansans. The survey – a politically-leading questionnaire, at best – was released by the campaign office of U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark.
The survey asked: “If Republicans were forced to build their agenda around one issue, which issue would you want us to choose?” Of the 1,749 responses, 916 selected spending control, 294 said jobs and 163 chose the repeal or blocking of Obamacare. Social issues ranked at the bottom. Only 5.9% said abortion should be the top issue.
Pandering legislators, however, aren’t stupid. They know that the key to remaining in office in Arkansas is to win primary elections. To do that, one must appeal to the more enthused wings of their respective political base. With the historic trend of voter turnout in Arkansas primaries, 5.9% will do just fine for pandering legislators focused on keeping their jobs.