Tolbert: ‘Deep And Wide’ Thoughts On A Newly Red State

by Jason Tolbert ([email protected]) 26 views 

A song from my childhood has been in my head all morning. “Deep and Wide. Deep and Wide. There’s a fountain flowing Deep and Wide.”

1. Wide – Such was the result of the Republican deluge which overtook the state last night.  The margin of victory was wider than most everyone predicted.  I thought I was bold on Sunday predicting Cotton and Asa would win by 10 or 11 points.  I underestimated. Cotton won by an amazing 18 points.  Asa Hutchinson won the Governor’s office by 13 points. That’s not even close!

2. Deep – The Republican wave transcended up and down the ballot to every office.  Republicans won all 7 Constitutional Offices by double digits except for in the Attorney General’s race, where the Democrats ran perhaps their most conservative and qualified candidate, Nate Steel, who still lost to the troubled campaign of Leslie Rutledge by 8 points.  And that’s the best any Democrat did. Republicans won all four Congressional races by wide margins. In the state legislature, Republicans grew their majorities in the House to 64 out of 100 – where they won 26 out of 34 House races with a general election opponent – and the Senate to 24 out of 35 – where they won all 3 Senate races with a general election opponent. They will now control all the state legislative committees and set the agenda for the session.

3. The Dog Finally Caught the Car – A prominent Republican friend of mine wrote on Facebook – “My entire adult life I have worked for this night. Arkansas is a Republican state!” The GOP achieved what it has worked toward for the last 50 years starting with Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller’s first unsuccessful run for office in 1964. They have finally caught what they have been chasing. Now what will they do? How will they govern now that they are in charge? While there were some great candidates – particularly at the top of the ticket – some won simply because they had an R by their name. How will these new faces to government do now that they are officeholders?  The answer to this question will determine whether the change to Republicanism in Arkansas is a permanent realignment.

4. The Debate is within the GOP – For decades, the political debate within the state was between conservative Democrats and liberal/progressive Democrats. Often winning the Democratic primary was tantamount to winning the election. For the last decade – particularly the last four years – this has shifted to a more traditional Republican versus Democrat partisan divide. But Democrats now have such small numbers in the legislature that they will be largely out of the debate other than perhaps flexing their ability to block appropriations, which require 75 percent, or they can vote as a bloc on issues where they align with Republican groups. The debate will become between centrist/mainstream Republicans and Tea Party Republicans. Which of these groups control the agenda is still up in the air.  Of course, the traditional rural versus urban, House versus Senate, lawyers versus non-lawyers, and other such divisions will still exist within the state legislature.

5. The Courts have not yet Shifted – While the judicial branch is technically non-partisan, the courts have not yet shifted in the way the legislative and executive branches have. There is a possibility this could create a power struggle between the judicial and legislative/executive branches. A “Lake View” type of decision striking down newly passed legislation seems likely. We have already seen some beginnings of this with the voter ID law and some restrictions on abortion being struck down by the courts. We will likely see more of this struggle.

6. Growing Pains for the State Bureaucracy – We are about to see major turnover within state government. State agency heads that have years of institutional experience will retire or take other jobs. Fresh faces that do not have the decades of knowledge on how their agency works will take their places. A clean house will shake out some cobwebs that need to be shaken, while inexperience will also undoubtedly produce some learning-on-the-job embarrassments.

7. Look to John Thurston – My only endorsement this year was for Land Commissioner John Thurston. Four years ago, Thurston was on the church staff at Agape Church and had zero experience in state government. He hired a competent chief of staff – Bill Huffman – and kept on the best employees in that office while also hiring some trusted advisers. He quietly ran the office, made the trains run on time, and stayed out of controversy. If Republicans follow his example, Arkansas will be a Republican state for decades to come.  This is not to say Republicans should not boldly pursue the conservative principles they ran on, but they should also seek the utmost competency while doing so. Democrats – rightly so – will be looking for any mistake they can highlight. Republicans must prove themselves worthy of the office.

8. Nothing Beats Winning –  As someone who obviously leans Republican, I have seen candidate after candidate go down in defeat after running a hopeful campaign. In 2010, this trend began to change. It feels good to win. Enjoy it!

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