Printer Friendly

What's the big deal? Observers say Lt. Governor's race could mean little to state's future.

FOR THE THIRD TIME in two months, Arkansans will be asked to choose a lieutenant governor, even though some voters aren't exactly sure what the job involves.

Furthermore, the winner's term will expire at the end of next year, and voters will have to do it all over again.

Try to remain calm.

The race between Republican Mike Huckabee and Democrat Nate Coulter, which will be decided Tuesday, July 27, has frequently been described as a launching pad for a future governor -- the man who will lead Arkansas into the 21st century. That theory, however, seems to have more holes than Swiss cheese.

Low voter turnout in the Democratic primary elections suggests that the general public doesn't think much is at stake in this race, and political observers seem to concur.

"I view it as a lieutenant governor's race -- nothing more, nothing less," says state Sen. Mike Beebe of Searcy. "I don't think there will be much of an impact either way."

To Beebe, the notion that the future of both parties hangs partly on this race is absurd.

"Somebody could come up any time," he says. "I don't think it's like a minor-league farm system where you have to always have someone in the pipeline."

Two facts suggest that the short-term impact of this election could be rather limited.

Fact 1: Both candidates have pledged to run for a full, four-year term in the office if elected. That means neither Huckabee nor Coulter could be governor of the state until 1999 unless Jim Guy Tucker leaves the office for one reason or another.

Fact 2: Even if the winner does run for governor, he will face pretty stout opposition. Sheffield Nelson, the Republican who lost the 1990 governor's race to Bill Clinton, calls himself the "presumptive favorite" for the 1994 GOP nomination and says he is strongly considering another run for the office.

In later races, Huckabee would also have to worry about state Sen. Jim Keet, the Little Rock Republican who won a tough, expensive race last year against Democratic incumbent John Pagan. Many observers say Keet is less radical and more palatable to the electorate than Huckabee.

What About Tucker?

On the Democratic side, Coulter would be unlikely to challenge Tucker. If he waits, he might have to stand in line behind Attorney General Winston Bryant, who has been steadily making a name for himself as a consumer advocate.

Little Rock political consultant Jerry Russell is another observer who says the election will be basically meaningless, but that's because he's already divined the outcome.

"I don't think Mr. Huckabee is going to win, which would maintain the status quo," Russell says. "Even if he does win, having the lieutenant governor's office doesn't give you anything. I think he's through."

Russell claims he's known for a year that Huckabee made a deal with Nelson that he would not run for governor in 1994, clearing the way for Nelson's candidacy. Huckabee says he has made no political deals.

State Sen. Jay Bradford of Pine Bluff, a probable 4th Congressional District candidate in 1994, says the election has lasting significance only if Coulter wins.

"Once he gets statewide exposure, there are not any barriers," Bradford says. "Some day, he could be a United States senator. Gov. Tucker will give him meaningful responsibilities as lieutenant governor. I don't think he would be at all threatened by Nate."

But that would not be the case with Huckabee, Bradford says, noting that "the power of the lieutenant governor really lies within the purview of the state Senate and the governor."

Under Senate rules, the lieutenant governor funnels proposed legislation to the committees of his choice, and this often seals the fate of the bills. But if Huckabee is elected, Bradford says, the Senate probably would change those rules.

Bradford says Huckabee's only recourse would be to hit the "rubber chicken and mashed potatoes circuit" to increase his popularity. He could also put together ad hoc committees on matters of pressing concern to show he is in tune with the public and has leadership aptitude. It might work, Bradford says, but it probably won't.

Keet, secure in his new Senate job, claims the party would not be damaged by a respectable defeat.

"It's not necessarily a referendum on ideology," he says. "If it's a close race and people in Arkansas are mobilized and there is a relatively high turnout, it would actually be positive for the party."

Other Fish in the Sea

Keet says the stakes are considerably higher for Huckabee. "Because Nate is a neophyte in terms of his own candidacy, it would not be devastating for him to lose. Mike has more to lose in this race...and Nate would seem to have the edge."

Nelson, too, is minimizing the overall significance of this race and prefers to tout the party's victories in the November general election. He refers to two congressional victories that many others see as marginal accomplishments: Tim Hutchinson's ascension to the already Republican 3rd District seat; and Jay Dickey's victory in the 4th district, which might well be erased by Bradford in '94.

Besides, Nelson thinks of himself -- not Huckabee -- as the best candidate for governor.

"I think I would have the inside track to winning the Republican nomination in 1994," he says. "I've got to think about it very carefully."

Huckabee says a victory would be a "watershed" for the Republican Party.

"We think it will finally open the door so people will have the courage to run for quorum court without kissing up to the inner circle," he says.

Conversely, he admits that a loss could discourage many Republicans from running for office in the state, although he thinks the party would bounce back.

What might we expect over the long term from politician Huckabee? In his words, he will have a strong base of support from "coalition Republicans, conservative and disenfranchised Democrats, and pro-family and pro-life advocates."

Huckabee hopes he would be thought of as a "crackers and cheese" Republican who gave a political voice to people whose voices have not been heard in a long time.

If Coulter grows old in public service, supporters say he will mirror President Clinton in his interest in education and children and also take a keen interest in the judicial system. Coulter recently held himself out as a candidate for U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Arkansas.

Coulter does not pretend that his political ambitions end with the lieutenant governor's office, but he hasn't discussed his specific plans.

"I think he'd leave all the options open," says Sheila Bronfman, a Little Rock Democratic political consultant. "I know he's interested in |state~ attorney general. I would think if the timing were right, he might be interested in Congress."
COPYRIGHT 1993 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Haman, John
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Jul 26, 1993
Previous Article:Pipeline to recovery: Honea fuels effort to lead Arkla Inc. back from disaster in post-McLarty era.
Next Article:Work that's concrete: Paragould equipment manufacturer grows into $4.2 million worldwide business.

Related Articles
Food fete: the Phillips Cos. of Bentonville honored for promoting Arkansas.
Lt. Governor discusses budget at NYARM luncheon.
After the election: political status quo.
Scandals, investigations plague political landscape.
Sept. 11 preliminary could be key factor in race for mayor.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters