Gov. Beebe talks about regrets, successes, life after he leaves office

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 164 views 

Democratic Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe spent an hour on stage recently with political columnist John Brummett to discuss the outgoing governor’s political career, legacy and plans for retirement.

The event, which was held for the Little Rock nonprofit LifeQuest, was recorded for the weekend edition of Talk Business & Politics, which will airs on KATV Ch. 7 out of Little Rock.

Beebe and Brummett discussed a variety of personal, professional and political topics in a casual, comfortable one-on-one setting before a live audience that was ripe with mutual ribbing, serious reflection and the interjection of laughter from a crowd of more than 175.

Brummett is a political columnist with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and is a contributor to Talk Business & Politics.

The governor analyzed what he thought occurred in recent election cycles that have bolstered Republican elected officials up and down the ballot despite his own popularity. He said that political moods swing back-and-forth and that Republicans must prove they can govern capably to continue to earn voters’ trusts.

He said he hoped to help Democrats rebuild the party in Arkansas after the losses incurred in 2010, 2012 and 2014 – momentum he said was largely caused by the unfavorable view of President Barack Obama. Beebe warned that if Republicans swung too far from the mainstream with its governing style, namely referring to Tea Party supporters, voters would reassess their recent endorsements of the GOP.

Beebe named two accomplishments of his time as Governor that he hoped would be transformational and long-lasting. One was the Payment Reform Initiative that he sees as bending the cost curve on health care costs through a episodic care model versus a fee-for-service model. He also said he wanted Arkansas to have a higher self-esteem through his leadership – a “swagger” that would reflect a can-do mindset for the state.

“Not a negative Texas one (swagger), but a good positive one,” Beebe said.

Beebe also admitted failure – and regret – on one major issue: an industrial hog farm that was permitted in the Buffalo River watershed in Newton County. The controversial Concentrated Animal Farming Operation (CAFO) was permitted through the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and opened for business nearly two years ago despite legal challenges.

Critics say the waste from the plant will pollute the Buffalo River, while supporters contend there is a system in place to protect waste from leeching into the stream. Brummett said a voter he spoke to in Northwest Arkansas said the hog farm and its potential negative impact on the environment would be a part of the governor’s “place in history.”

“[This man said] you were asleep at the switch. Your whole administration let that happen. Was there something you and your administration could have done?” Brummett asked.

“Could I have raised the alarm earlier? Yes. You’re absolutely right,” Beebe answered. “Was someone asleep because we didn’t? The answer is, ‘Yes’ because I didn’t know about it.”

“Who’s supposed to tell you?” asked Brummett.

“It’s my fault. It’s my fault. If my people – whether they’re agency heads or agency personnel, or even my own staff – if I don’t know it, it’s still my fault,” said Beebe.

He added, “I wish it was never there. I’ve stopped all future ones. We have put all sorts of stuff from the University of Arkansas to monitor, and at the first opportunity that it looks like there’s leeching in that Buffalo watershed, we will take the appropriate steps to stop it. We have followed the law. I don’t really like the law. I think they ought to change the law, so that CAFO’s don’t exist anywhere around a watershed going forward and we’re going to do the best we can to make a better situation out of a bad situation. If I had it to do over, it wouldn’t happen.”

Beebe also said that he would have fought the Hempstead County-based Turk power plant – a clean coal plant – but said it was too far along in the building process to reverse course when he became governor.

“Natural gas is much cleaner, and we’ve got a lot of it,” said Beebe. “I wish the plant (Turk) was there – I wish it was a natural gas plant.”

When he leaves office in January, Beebe will have wrapped up a political career that began in 1981. He has served as a State Senator, Attorney General and Governor.

As he has repeated many times, he said running for elected office is not in his future political plans. But Beebe hasn’t announced what he may do besides play golf, read and stay out of his wife’s way when the first couple return to their hometown of Searcy.

“I don’t have any immediate plans to do anything. I am open to some things,” he said, admitting he may get bored. “There are just so many rounds of golf you can play and there’s only so many books you can read… I’ve conjured in my mind some options – none of which are full time. I’ve said I may serve on a board or two. I’ve said I may teach a college course. I may consult, but not as a lobbyist because I don’t want to do any of that stuff.”

“I don’t plan on doing anything full-time. I plan on letting it evolve. I plan on taking it easy and see what happens. If I get too bored, we’ll go figure out something. We’ll go tear something up and try to fix it,” Beebe added.