Democrats ad­vised to be more mod­er­ate

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - JOHN MORITZ

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.

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