Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat who maintains high popularity among voters even as the state shifted to Red, is having fun with his “farewell tour.” There were several serious moments during his Friday (Nov. 21) address to the Northwest Arkansas Political Animals Club in Fayetteville, but Beebe’s verbal timing with a story of his “conversion” to the Episcopalian church drew two rounds of loud laughter.
It was during a summer of work between his college year that saw the young Mike Beebe working for a family of the Episcopalian faith. The pastor of the Episcopal church was coming to visit the family, and the mother asked Beebe to fix him a drink. The pastor’s preferred libation, of which Beebe the young college student was to deliver, was a gin and tonic.
“That got my attention,” Gov. Beebe said with a deadpan delivery resulting in laughs from the audience of at least 150.
Before the last of the laughter trickled away, Beebe finished the story.
“So I joined the Episcopal Church.”
More laughter. And even more laughter when Beebe said his mother told others she knew her son would pick a religion that provided the widest latitude for vices.
A term-limited Beebe leaves office in January when Gov.-elect Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, is sworn in.
Beebe’s address wasn’t all giggles and grins. He began by addressing his decision to pardon his son for a 2003 marijuana possession conviction. Beebe said he is “very strict and conservative” with commutations, but “very liberal” with pardons of non-violent offenses.
“Particularly if they were kids who screwed up,” Beebe said, adding that he’s issued more than 700 pardons for non-violent offenders.
“I refuse to treat him (Beebe’s son) worse than some 700 people similarly situated,” he said.
John Threet, Washington County Prosecuting Attorney and who was recently elected as a 4th Judicial Circuit Court Judge, introduced Beebe by saying he learned in legislative negotiations that the Governor ensured “a place at the table” for all sides as long as the debates were “respectful, sincere and diplomatic.”
Beebe picked up on that during his remarks, and praised Rep. Charlie Collins, a Republican from Fayetteville, for his work to ensure passage of the controversial Private Option legislation. Beebe said Collins certainly did not like the new health care legislation passed in Washington, but worked to find a way to ensure that the realities of the law were implemented in a manner that best suited the people of Arkansas. Beebe told the crowd that those who are “rational and reasonable and will have a little empathy” can work through almost any disagreement toward a solution.
As to his legacy, Beebe said he is proud of the “good positive swagger” among Arkansans in recent years. He said Arkansans today and those of the next generation of leadership should have self confidence that the state “can accomplish things we might have doubted and one point in time.”
Mentioning the expansion event of Springdale-based NanoMech which he attended prior to the Fayetteville luncheon, Beebe said Arkansas “is poised with bright people and risk takers” ready to take the state to the next level.
FROM ROCKEFELLER TO BEEBE
Rogers native Bob Scott, who worked in several high level jobs for Republican Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, told Beebe during the Q&A session that he was a “continuation of Rockefeller” who brought “an absence of hate” to the political process but may be the last in that line. The remark drew a note of thanks from Beebe and applause from the audience.
Rockefeller, was elected in 1966, being the first Republican to hold the office since 1872. Some Arkansas historians say that Rockefeller allowed for more socially progressive and moderate Democratic governors such as Dale Bumpers, David Pryor and Bill Clinton.
Speaking after the event concluded, Scott, who wears “W.R.” pins on his lapel, said he remains a loyal Republican. However, he said the party is now controlled by too many “conservatives who have reached certitude on everything and don’t have an open mindset.”
“You can’t do that (govern) unless you can compromise. But with these conservatives that word, compromise, that word is now a bad thing,” Scott said.