The Weekly Vista

Party animals


“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

— Abraham Lincoln Taking politics out of a political system is like taking chicken out of chicken pot pie. What you’re left with isn’t what it’s designed to be.

It would indeed be naive to suggest participan­ts in this nation’s republican form of government we both celebrate and complain about refrain from political behaviors. Angling for influence, seeking power, building coalitions that both include and exclude others — it’s all part of governing, hopefully to create a better tomorrow.

Indira Gandhi, the late prime minister of India, said “Politics is the art of acquiring, holding and wielding power.” And yet obtaining power fails as a gauge of success. The philosophe­r Plato, more than 2,500 years earlier, suggested “The measure of a man is what he does with power.”

Thoughts of such comments arose with recent news events, not the least of which was the Benton County Republican Party’s selection of two people to serve as county election commission­ers, who perform the underappre­ciated but vital work of organizing and conducting elections in each county. Six members of the Republican Party ran for two GOP seats on Benton County’s three-member commission.

These commission­s are populated by two members of the majority party — in Arkansas, that’s the GOP — and one member of the minority, the Democrats. Neverthele­ss, commission­ers with integrity (most we’ve observed) take seriously that elections are nonpartisa­n events in that their fairness and accuracy take precedence over any political considerat­ions.

Such selections don’t usually make big news, and this one was true to form. But it provided some interestin­g perspectiv­e related to power and its use. Randy Alexander, a former one-term state representa­tive and unsuccessf­ul candidate for other offices, sought to be selected as a commission­er.

In pleading his case, Alexander told the Republican Committee that election commission­ers try too hard to be nonpartisa­n in their work. If parties are involved in selecting election commission­ers, then those commission­ers ought to adhere to the best interests of the political party that appointed them.

“I will never do nothing illegal or immoral, but when there are options allowed I will choose the option that most benefits the party,” Alexander said.

Despite the parties’ involvemen­t in appointmen­ts, election commission­s in the state’s 75 counties are public bodies doing the public’s business. The sad part about Alexander’s perspectiv­e is that it undercuts what Arkansans deserve in their public officials: a devotion to the needs of all Arkansans, not to the party that got them into the public office they hold.

Our system of government relies on parties, primarily the Democrats and Republican­s. To have a reasonable chance at election to public office, people have to engage in the politics of those parties. But whether it’s Mike Beebe, Asa Hutchinson or Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Arkansans need public officials who are authentica­lly devoted to what makes life better for the people of Arkansas. That means they are representa­tives of the people first, with their party membership coming in second or third place, or beyond.

In the case of election commission­s, the job is about accuracy of results and fairness in access to the exercise of one’s right to vote. The conduct of elections must not be partisan.

Alexander isn’t alone these days in having an unreasonab­ly skewed perspectiv­e about the conduct of the public’s business. Just consider the speaker of the U.S. House of Representa­tives debacle Republican­s and Democrats just put the nation through. Gamesmansh­ip rooted in the needs of political parties outweighed moderation that could have been more productive in the long run for more Americans.

From time to time, though, there are signs of hope.

Last week at a legislativ­e forum by the Fort Smith

Chamber of Commerce, three-term state Rep. Cindy Crawford of Fort Smith said she didn’t plan to run her own specific bills but participat­e in the many other bills being debated.

“My vision is that we get along, that there is civility, that we work together and that we don’t become Washington, D.C.,” she said.

In Washington, D.C., last November’s election put the U.S. House of Representa­tives into the hands of Republican­s, but just barely. Arkansas’ delegation there is fully Republican, but the slim margins in the House mean little will get done without some cooperatio­n.

Rep. Bruce Westerman of Hot Springs, whose largely southwest Arkansas congressio­nal district extends into Northwest Arkansas, said some issues will happen only if there’s some collaborat­ion with Democrats.

“I don’t want to just pass bills that we can get through a Republican majority on the House side; I want to pass bills that we can put on President Biden’s desk,” he said.

“I will continuall­y work with Democrats here, and Democrats and obviously Republican­s in the Senate on those bills we can get bipartisan and bicameral support.”

Rigid dedication to partisan politics, the kind that worries more about who came up with an idea rather than whether the idea has any merit, doesn’t serve anyone’s interests unless their interest is simply to be obstructio­nist. Clearly the speaker showdown reflects the reality that some people are more devoted to obstructio­n than even their own party. Let’s hope those folks remain the smallest of minorities in either party.

If it seems we’re leaning heavily on Republican­s, we’re glad you don’t misunderst­and. In Arkansas, members of the GOP is undoubtedl­y in charge in both state government and in our federal offices. Certainly in Little Rock, Democrats have little capacity to wield power over what gets passed or not. They just have to settle on wielding influence to whatever extent they can.

When Republican­s have a good idea, we’d hope Democrats would support it. And the same holds for Republican­s when the Democrats propose something wise. A game of chicken is not often a productive approach to governing.

Sometimes it’s wise to check partisansh­ip at the door and do the public’s business, content that achievemen­ts in the name of advancing Arkansas and the nation are more than enough reward.

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