How to Lose an Election: Arkansas Senate District 21

Who would’ve thought the national public mood would have reared its head so prominently yesterday in a little race for the state Senate in Northeast Arkansas?

Chad Neill made a big bet that very thing would happen. Problem is, winning his six-figure wager depended on getting dealt an entirely different hand.

In the two weeks leading up to yesterday’s special election in Arkansas Senate District 21, voters simply could not escape Neill’s enormous (likely the biggest ever) media buy for a citizen legislator’s job that pays $14,000 and change annually. Neill engaged a proven strategy that flooded almost every local media venue imaginable. In the last 14 days, he owned local television, radio and billboards. Fact is, this is how you buy name recognition. Everyone knows it.

Furthermore, Neill paid thousands of dollars for professional consultants and research that clearly advised him to take hot-button national political issues such as gun control and national health care and throw them into the campaign mix so he could line up with the perceived pervasive mood of his Republican Party.

One published media report indicated Neill was reluctant to participate in a debate since he’d already invested more than $100k in paid media.

This time, at least, an election would not be bought. Not here. Not today.

Money would not be the thing that would impress Northeast Arkansas voters this time.

After watching Paul Bookout throw $50k and change at designer jeans and high-tech surround-sound systems, playing fast and loose with money was already a soft spot with local voters. They clearly were looking to be impressed with something beyond money.

Then, add a barrage of national media coverage over government shutdowns and debt ceilings at a time when every word that comes out of a politician’s mouth is considered mostly BS by anyone who hears it and Neill’s strategy (that in most other circumstances would’ve worked) got him dead last place in his own Republican Primary, That, despite the fact that he spent twice as much as both his opponents combined.

Neill’s own strategy, became the very thing that beat him.

Enter John Cooper, the unlikely candidate, who spent nothing by comparison, and led the entire field. Cooper’s strategy? Good old fashioned shoe leather. Go figure.

First there were seven. Now, four. Cooper and Dan Sullivan will square off for the Republican nomination in three weeks, while Radius Baker and Steve Rockwell will court their Democratic base.

Yesterday’s election results now offer the candidates some interesting lessons moving forward in the January 2014 general election. They’d be well advised to study hard.

-30-

What Arkansas’ First Congressional District Needs Again

Four things, I submit.

1. Someone who has a passion for public service, not the perks of the job.

2. Someone who speaks as an independent voice, a representative of the people, not a manipulated party puppet.

3. Someone who bridges the gap between black, white, Hispanic, rich and poor. Someone who embraces diversity.

4. Someone who “gets” that the background of the First Congressional District is rooted in the forward thinking of entrepreneurial farmers, under-paid, under-valued teachers, and senior citizens who’ve given us all a legacy of hope and opportunity.

***

Full Disclosure:

Former U.S. Rep. Marion Berry (D-AR)

I spent nearly four years working alongside Congressman Marion Berry as a press secretary, and later as a district director. In the years leading up to that privilege, I was a newspaper reporter with a love for following those invested in public service, Blanche Lincoln among them.

And I’ll tell you what Arkansas‘ First Congressional District needs again. We need a public servant, a representative in Congress who follows the example set forth by Marion Berry and Blanche Lincoln.

***

Three weeks ago today, Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ellington (D-AR) ended his bid to recapture the traditionally Democratic held seat representing nearly a million people. I voted for Ellington, not that I know him personally. We’ve met a few times and I gauged him to be one who fit the mold of Berry and Lincoln. Whether it was an inadequately run campaign, or just bad timing, we may never know, but I think we missed a good opportunity to get the First District going again.

***

Berry and Lincoln were quite different, yet very much alike.

To each of those one million constituents, she was Blanche. He was Marion.

That’s what I loved the most about them.

Over the years, Lincoln developed a strong skill set in constituent relations.

Former U.S. Rep. and Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR)

People loved her. But she was more than just a pretty face. Blanche Lincoln was an effective public servant. She got things done.

Berry, on the other hand, was never a slick, tell-you-what-you-want-to-hear kind of guy. What you saw was what you got. I quit, early on, trying to morph him into something he was not. It couldn’t be done, and no one should have ever tried.  Berry got the job done. His advocacy for all of us built roads and overpasses, put clean, running water in rural towns, beat down every ridiculous regulation he could that would aggravate the already lopsided odds against farmers everywhere. Not a great politician was Berry, (and it was never his aspiration) but a magnificent and tireless public servant.

Can we say that’s what we enjoy today in the First Congressional District? A warrior who stands in the gap, and on our behalf?

If not, who?

And, when?

-30-

Election 2012: Well – That’s What Happens to a Bunch of White Guys in Blue Suits

“As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.

So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.” ~ 1st Samuel 17:48-50

What in the world does that familiar story have to do with the presidential election? I’ll tell you in just a minute.

***

POTUS

Here’s what happened.

Ever been to a football game where the quarterback predictably handed the ball to a running back time after time after time? Slowly, methodically the team trudges down the field and makes its way to the goal line. It’s boring, not real glitzy, and the crowd hates it. It’s almost silent, but oftentimes, damn effective.

While all the white guys in XXL blue suits were standing ’round the country club bar knocking back Long Island Teas and comparing portfolios, a silent, but deadly ground game was going forward. And the white guys in blue suits never heard them coming.

They were Latino, Hispanic, Black and poor white – minorities we call them. And they were standing in early voting lines, getting on buses, carpooling to the polls and calling their friends. In the political world, it’s called GOTV – get out the vote – and it’s a political science that wins most elections and goes very mistakenly unnoticed because it’s quiet.

WHY A SOLID MINORITY BEATS A FRAGMENTED MAJORITY EVERY SINGLE TIME.

It’s actually slap-you-in-the-face-obvious if you just look at the map.

This election happened in California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Florida. What do these states have in common? For one, they hold true to one of our country’s founding principles. They welcome “foreigners” as their own. They embrace diversity. “Give me your tired, your poor,” they say.

And though they may be “minorities” in this country, they are rock-solid together, as one, because they have no other choice.

Oh, how we talk about power of the evangelical Christian right. They’re going to determine this election’s outcome, right? They can’t even agree on the color of the choir robes, much less come together as a body that creates a movement. They haven’t done it since the first century, so why would it happen now? They’re so busy spitting in the eye of freedom of choice, the self-righteousness loses sight of the greater good.

Barack Obama was the most beatable president in recent history. It was Mitt’s to lose, and lose, he did.

Never in the history of social media has a man been so disrespected as the present and future president of the United States. He’s your president today, and is your Commander-in-Chief for the next four years. Suck it up and give your respect. If not, just be quiet, okay?

What does the story of David and Goliath have to do with it all? Only everything.

This country’s solid minority, just beat the fragmented majority like a dog.

From now on, maybe we all should just try to get along.

The majority no longer rules. Get used to it, or do something about it.

***

Now the only question that remains is this: Will Chris Christie face Biden or Clinton (Hillary, that is,) in 2016? That race starts now.

stevenwwatkinsAnd by the way, I am a white guy who occasionally wears blue suits.

-30-

The Debate: Romney, Rules and Ego Beat Obama

I’m on the record as a critic of Mitt Romney‘s campaign, and until last night, it was, in fact, a disaster. Less than two weeks ago, I said the 2012 presidential race was over.

romney vs. obama

I was wrong.

It doesn’t require a lot of in-depth analysis to see exactly why Romney was the hands-down winner in last night’s debate. It wasn’t a necessarily stellar performance from Romney, but it was good. I give him a “B.”

Romney’s win was more about President Obama being totally off his game by way of the environment.

Two simple reasons.

1. The moment Jim Lehrer announced the debate crowd would be silent, well, it was a game changer. Obama’s a great speech maker. One of the best. No one feeds off a crowd like Barack Obama. For the POTUS, the required silence was deafening.

2. For the first time in four years, Obama stood on stage with another man as an equal. Obama’s always played the role of the smartest guy in the room. In his mind, he has no equals. Last night was mono e mono. It’s been a long time since Obama was put in a defensive position. Romney blew by him like Michael Jordan.

On the grading scale:

Romney – “B”

Obama “D”

Things just got interesting, and a LOT more money just got poured into a negative TV campaign.

-30-

Who is John Boozman? Veterans Need to Know.

FACT: In the United States, a veteran commits suicide every 80 minutes.

U.S. Sen. Fay Boozman votes against veterans.

Arkansas Sen. John Boozman

FACT: Today, one in four veterans is unemployed.

FACT: The total number of employable, but unemployed veterans now stands in excess of 700,000.

FACT: On Wednesday, Senate Republicans blocked the vote on the Veterans Jobs Corps bill that would have infused $1 billion over the next five years to help veterans find jobs in their communities.

FACT: Arkansas Republican Senator John Boozman was one of the leading authors of the Veterans bill.

FACT: Boozman serves on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

FACT: Yesterday, Boozman voted against allowing that bill to come to a vote on the Senate floor. He did so along with three other Republican senators who authored the bill.

***

The question is why.

The answer is clear.

It’s called partisan politics and the Romney Effect.

senators who voted against veterans

These four Republican senators authored the Veterans Jobs Corps bill, yet voted against allowing it to come to a vote.

There were no downsides to the Veterans Jobs Corps bill. As a primary author of the legislation, Boozman and others knew that. So why in the world would they vote against a bill that would put veterans, whose 10.2 percent unemployment rate stands well above that of the general civilian population?

This generally bi-partisan bill was a cornerstone of President Obama’s 2012 budget and a highlight of his 2012 State of the Union  Address.

At this late stage in the game with Republican’s likelihood of capturing the White House diminishing daily, the GOP will have nothing to do with anything that might be deemed a presidential success.

It’s like sending our veterans to war all over again.

Veterans Jobs Corps billAnd there is no “Plan B.” This measure won’t come up again for at least another year.

***

All potential good aside, Boozman joins dozens of other Republican candidates this week doing everything they can to be anything but Republicans.

The Romney Effect has Republican candidates scrambling to hide from their identity, at least for the next several weeks.

Republican candidates in key swing states such as Wisconsin, Massachussetts, Ohio, Virgina and Nevada now claim no association with Romney after he willingly acknowledged his dismissal of 47 percent of the American population.

“I think there is a broad and growing feeling now that this thing is slipping out of Romney’s hands.” ~ conservative columnist Peggy Noonan

***

That’s not the way I view the world. As someone who grew up in tough circumstances, I know that being on public assistance is not a spot anybody wants to be in.” ~ Massachussetts Sen. Scott Brown, who now trails his Democratic opponent Elizabeth Warren.

***

“I just don’t view the world the way he (Romney) does.” ~ Nevada Sen. Dean Heller.

Who is Sen. John Boozman? All veterans should remember.

He’s the politician who solicited your vote, then turned his back on you.

-30

Romney Axes Ryan: New VP Contenders Surface

This just in:

Vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan got off to a great start three weeks ago when he lied about his marathon finishing time, but Ryan, in the succeeding weeks has not been cold-hearted enough to justify his continued position on the ballot with Mitt Romney, officials close to the campaign said today.

Romney’s new list of candidates and their qualifications:

The Queen of Mean’s intentions to leave $4 million to her dog is a perfect offset to that nasty story about the Romneys strapping their pet to the top of the station wagon during family vacation … but the new campaign slogan she brings is perfect: “ONLY THE LITTLE PEOPLE PAY TAXES!”

scrooge

EBENEEZER SCROOGE: (On his provision for the poor:) “Are there no prisons, no workhouses?”

pontius pilate sentencing jesus

PONTIUS PILATE: His willingness to sacrifice the savior of the world brings him in as a top contender.

grinch who stole christmas

THE GRINCH: With a heart 2 sizes too small, anyone who is willing to steal from the children of WhoVille makes the cut.

john edwards reilly hunter

JOHN EDWARDS: Willing to become a Republican for the promise of getting back into politics, Edwards is ready for service.

seinfeld soup nazi

THE SOUP NAZI: Brings the perfect disposition for the campaign’s theme moving forward.

bernie madoff ponzi scheme

BERNIE MADOFF: Protecting the wealth of the rich at any cost and crushing the dreams of middle America Madoff sees a new future as Romney’s sidekick.

benedict arnold

BENEDICT ARNOLD: Romney loves that he will say anything to anybody. Tell me who the crowd is and I’ll say what they want to hear, Arnold says. Great fundraising possibilities here.

lindsay lohan smoking

LINDSAY LOHAN: Proved her worth just yesterday running down a pedestrian and fleeing the scene.

tightwad usa

EVERYONE WHO LIVES IN THIS TOWN

-30-

Obama vs. Romney: What Would Jesus Do?

signing of declaration of independence

My personal struggle with the issue between separation of church and state dates to a real experience in 1998.

I was campaign press secretary for Democratic congressional candidate Marion Berry, and at the time, a member of a Southern Baptist Church. Interestingly, my counterpart, the communications director for our Republican opponent, attended the same church. We were even in the same Sunday school class.

Throughout the campaign, my counterpart, who was also a personal friend, proudly wore a button to church each Sunday in support of his candidate. It’s no particular criticism of him. It was just something I couldn’t do. Personally, I felt more at peace leaving politics at home than bringing attention to them at church.

Fast forward 12 years to the upcoming presidential election and it seems we’re all struggling with the separation of church and state issue more than ever. It’s creating a huge divide that causes me to wonder where it all may go.

Perhaps the biggest news to come out of the Democratic National Convention this week was whether the party would make the slightest mention of the word “God” in its platform. At the outset, the Democrat’s original platform made no mention of God. On Wednesday, they slipped in a mention of the divine creator.

I can imagine God sitting on his throne in Heaven wiping his brow. “Whew,” he must have exclaimed. “That was a close one!”

Within the last couple of years, I’ve actually found myself in the midst of “Christian” gatherings where in one breath leaders would pray for the safety of our troops abroad, only in the next breath to label our Commander-in-Chief as the anti-Christ.

It’s difficult to explain what that causes me to feel, so I won’t even try.

Right or wrong, statistics show more than half the American population believes President Obama to be a subscriber of the Muslim faith. He declares himself Christian.

On the other hand, Republican candidate Mitt Romney is Mormon. And many of the Christian evangelicals I know would say under their breath that to be Mormon is not to be Christian. I really don’t know. It’s not for me to decide.

Is God a Democrat or Republican? Romney or Obama? What would Jesus do?

As a nation, it seems we’ve never been more divided along the lines of race, the issue of right to life and the rights, or lack thereof, in the lesbian/gay community.

racial divide in politics

We stand to the extreme left, or the extreme right. Those who stand anywhere in between are labeled as heretics, unbelievers or a hateful people void of love for others.

I confess to find myself in the greyness of uncertainty between the two extremes and don’t believe I’m any of those things. What’s wrong with a simple confession that we just don’t know the mind of God?

Is it wrong to take the life of an unborn child. Yes, I think so. Yet is it wrong to deny a woman her freedom of choice for her own well being as a result of certain circumstances? I simply can’t deny that right. So, I just don’t know. It’s not for me to judge and I don’t believe that makes me a heretic or a coward. I just don’t know.

Evangelicals to the extreme right declare the sanctity of the right to life, yet in his years as governor of Texas, George W. Bush presided over the execution of 153president george w. bush prison inmates who were condemned to death. Many will argue there’s a huge difference. Personally, I don’t see it. Is strapping someone to a gurney and injecting them with medication that stops their heart from beating somehow not a violation of the sanctity of life?

Thou shalt not kill except behind thy prison walls?

It’s a double-edged sword we wield.

Can a gay or lesbian couple live together in the bonds of matrimony and yet declare themselves as members of the Christian faith? My read of the bible says that marriage is between man and woman, and that any such act would be one of sin. Nothing more, nothing less. And yet, I know God also disapproves of the many sinful acts of which I’ve been guilty over my 46 years. Am I unforgiven of those sins? I don’t believe it for a minute. Who am I to judge, or to know the mind of God?

Earlier this week, Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan declared the Obama presidency to be the most failed period of governance since Jimmy Carter’s term in office.

president jimmy carterI’m reminded of a 1976 interview Carter did with Playboy magazine in which he confessed his shortcomings. Policy and party politics aside, I think Carter was on to something when he acknowledged this about our society’s moralistic judgment:

“Because I’m just human and I’m tempted and Christ set some almost impossible standards for us. The Bible says, ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery.’ Christ said, I tell you that anyone who looks on a woman with lust has in his heart already committed adultery. I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times…. This is something that God recognizes, that I will do and have done, and God forgives me for it. But that doesn’t mean that I condemn someone who not only looks on a woman with lust but who leaves his wife and shacks up with somebody out of wedlock. Christ says, don’t consider yourself better than someone else because one guy screws a whole bunch of women while the other guy is loyal to his wife. The guy who’s loyal to his wife ought not to be condescending or proud because of the relative degree of sinfulness.”

I think it’s one of the more transparent and honest acknowledgments of any president in modern history. Carter didn’t declare himself to be perfect, without fault or all-knowing of the difference between right or wrong.

Many would point to the notion that the framers of our country intended us to be a nation of Godly people, yet they clearly set some boundaries for our own well being that we somehow fail to grasp.

As the principal author of the United States Declaration of IndependenceThomas Jefferson articulated a statement about human rights that most Americans regard as nearly sacred. Together with James Madison, Jefferson carried on a long and successful campaign against state financial support of churches in Virginia. It is Jefferson who created the phrase “wall of separation between church and state” in his 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists of Connecticut. During his 1800 campaign for the presidency, Jefferson had to contend with critics who argued that he was unfit to hold office because he did not have orthodox religious beliefs.

Yet with the adoption of the idea of church-state separation, Jefferson authored these words in the Declaration of Independence.

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The constitution itself says there shall be no religious standard in the qualification to hold federal office. We should stand for what we believe, but also remember the boundaries to which we say we subscribe.

Obama vs. Romney? What would Jesus Do? I don’t know.

And I’m okay with that for now.

-30-