That Noise From Conway

By Paul Eilers on 12:20 PM

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By John Brummett

Since we don't have much happening of a political nature inside Arkansas, there is uncommon statewide interest in a state Senate race in Conway.

Actually, that's not true.

The statewide interest is mostly among a few hundred or so insiders. Regular people statewide aren't at all fired up about this local race for one of the 135 individually insignificant seats in the Arkansas General Assembly.

There's probably not a thing in the world that would be changed for the every-day Arkansawyer by this race. Arkansas legislative issues seldom come down to one vote, and, anyway, everybody in the Legislature votes the same way nine out of 10 times.

Now that I've successfully established the pointlessness, let's shine the spotlight, shall we?

I'll get back to Obama and Palin and the rest next time. By Thursday, there will have been another debate and a guy named Ayers will be bigger than Willie Horton. It's getting nasty. McCain has no chance otherwise.

You have Sen. Gilbert Baker, veteran incumbent, former music teacher at the University of Central Arkansas and past state Republican Party chairman. He's one of those professed religious conservatives. He's a likable, energetic, Mr. Positive sort whose engaging and adapting manner affixes a palatable and moderate facade to his underlying right-wing instincts.

With nominal and destructive Democrats like Bob Johnson, Baker is part and parcel in that outfit calling itself the "Brotherhood" that now runs the Senate. It exists merely for mutual back-scratching in disbursing state surplus money equally among senators for their self-aggrandizing local pork projects and play-pretties.

Baker fell into the group because he got his feelings hurt years ago when Mike Beebe, then the top dog in the Senate, presumed to tell him what he could have from the capital expenditure budget.

Opposing Baker is Democrat Joe White, a Conway businessman who has the fervent backing of a man who otherwise is the state's consummate advocate of bipartisanship. That would be the aforementioned Beebe.

This is entirely personal. When Baker was state Republican chairman, he funneled tens of thousands of dollars in party money to one of those faux-independent groups that spent the money on attack ads on Beebe calling him, absurdly, a co-conspirator with the criminal Nick Wilson.

Conway residents got a mailer the other day that attacked Baker for having steered all his share of the Brotherhood's pork-barrel state money to UCA - instead, that is, of parceling out smaller chunks here and there for rodeos, county fairs, senior citizen centers, halls of fame and things that ought to be attended to locally, like sidewalks and street lamps.

The point was to try to tie Baker to the discredited Lu Hardin, and, indeed, as I well know, those two were pretty chummy in the day.

The mailer didn't say that it was from White's campaign. So Baker called a news conference to declare it "illegal." But it turns out that state law is unclear on whether such mailed material must reveal how it's paid for.

White said the absence of campaign disclosure was an oversight. Quite an oversight, don't you think? A politician just plain forgot to put his name on something. Anybody buying that?

Anyway, what in the world is supposed to be wrong with taking all of your share of the Brotherhood's pork barrel and passing it on to your thriving local state university?

Baker called this mailer a "Washington-styled attack ad" that he eschewed.

I remind you that Baker took Republican Party money and passed it on to one of those supposedly independent groups so that the supposedly independent group, a mere hit squad, could produce and air bogus attack ads on Beebe and a few targeted legislative and local candidates.

For his big state GOP fundraiser when he was party chairman, Baker brought in Karl Rove, the mere architect of modern Washington style.

So tell us another one about what you eschew, Gilbert.


John Brummett is a columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. His e-mail address is; his telephone number is (501) 374-0699.

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