Democrats advised to be more moderate
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards told Arkansas Democrats in Little Rock on Saturday night that there’s an opportunity for them to flip seats in 2018 — pointing to his own election in a deeply red state nearly two years ago.
The governor from Arkansas’ southern neighbor was the keynote speaker for the Arkansas Democrats’ annual fundraiser, which for the first time was called the Clinton Dinner.
The self-described “prolife, pro-Second Amendment” Democrat reflected throughout his speech on the similarities between the two states, which have seen decades of strong Democratic support wither.
Democrats’ ranks in the Arkansas Legislature are at the lowest point since Reconstruction, and they control no constitutional or federal offices.
“I suspect they invited me here because I won the governor’s race a little less than two years ago in Louisiana, a state that doesn’t look terribly different than Arkansas,” Edwards said in an interview earlier Saturday.
In his speech, Edwards said his path to the governor’s mansion could serve as a road map for Arkansas Democrats.
And he said Democrats’ fortunes in both states lie at center of the aisle and with independents.
“We cannot hang out at the far left of the political spectrum, because you cannot seize what is available to us from there,” Edwards said.
Both states have expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Edwards said support for the expansion should be a “huge” talking point for Democrats in 2018, as Republicans in Washington struggle to repeal and replace the law.
He also said diversity is key to the party. On the local and national level, Edwards said, the party can’t afford to shun people who “don’t stand with 100 percent of the party platform.”
It was a possible reference to Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez, who earlier this year said support for the party’s position favoring abortion rights is “not negotiable.”
The dinner was the first headed by new state Democratic Party Chairman Michael John Gray, who is also a state representative from Augusta.
Like Edwards, Gray served as House minority leader. The two met in Philadelphia last year at the Democratic National Convention.
The Saturday night dinner at the Statehouse Convention Center raised at least $100,000 for the party, according to spokesman Jessica DeLoach, though a final tally was not yet available.
Including a dinner of shrimp and grits, chicken jambalaya, Nashville hot chicken and pork belly with baked beans, tickets for the event cost $100.
About 800 people were in attendance, according to the party.
Earlier in the day, at a meeting of the Democrats’ State Committee, House Minority Leader Rep. David Whitaker, D-Fayetteville, laid out a “bold aggressive agenda,” that he said will be the basis for 2018 campaigns.
The platform, according to Whitaker, includes opposing any legislation that would reduce health care coverage in Arkansas and supporting expanded pre-kindergarten programs, criminal justice issues and parole reform.
At the earlier meeting, Whitaker called on Democrats to recruit candidates or consider running for office themselves.
As of Saturday, no Democrat had announced plans to challenge Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson next year — a point alluded to by Edwards.
“Somebody in this room, it’s time to go big or go home,” he said.
Hutchinson, while critical of the Affordable Care Act, has also held back from supporting the U.S. Senate’s replacement plan.
At a meeting of the National Governor’s Association this month in Rhode Island, Edwards said a talk about President Donald Trump’s health care policy from Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price received a dull reception from the governors.
“There was nobody in that room excited about what he was saying,” Edwards said.
The new Clinton moniker for this year’s dinner was adopted after Democrats held the last Jefferson-Jackson Dinner last year, with former President Bill Clinton serving as the keynote speaker.
The previous name was dropped due to its association with two slave-holding presidents.
Clinton said in a pre-recorded video played at Saturday’s dinner that he also has hope for the party in a state where once served as governor.
“I’m old enough to remember battles that looked even longer,” Clinton said.
Republicans will have their own annual fundraiser, the Reagan-Rockefeller Dinner, at the Little Rock Marriott next weekend.
The keynote speaker for that event is Fox News host Jeanine Pirro.