Friday, May 14, 2010

EDITORIAL >>For Elliott (D), Wallace (R)

Although we often wish that he were more combative and less obliging of the other side, our template for a congressman is Rep. Vic Snyder. He studies hard, follows his conscience on every vote, defers to his foes and critics and eschews the year-round money chase that consumes every other member of Congress. No solicitation went out and his campaign coffers were always empty until the day he filed for election, so during the intervening two years there was not the constant tug of obligation from financial interests when he cast a vote.

There Snyder was in the letters section of a Little Rock newspaper last week defending Rep. John Boozman, the Republican with whom he shares little in common except civility. Boozman is a candidate for the U. S. Senate and Snyder backs Senator Blanche Lincoln, a Democrat and his friend. The newspaper had criticized Boozman for visiting 14 foreign countries on the taxpayers’ tab last year and compared him unfavorably with the good Democrat Snyder, who took no trips. Snyder explained to the paper that he took no trips because of family obligations — he had new triplets and a gravely ill wife. Boozman ought not to be condemned, he said, but praised for expanding his knowledge and understanding of the global ramifications of nearly every vote that a congressman takes. Criticizing a Republican for taking congressionally related travel, he seemed to be saying, was a cheap shot.

What politician does things like that anymore?

But Vic Snyder isn’t running and central Arkansas must choose someone from a field of seven, five Democrats and two Republicans, who seek to replace him. We mentioned Snyder’s rare qualities not because we expect a clone but because he offers a certain standard by which many voters may want to measure the candidates.

If you’re voting in the Democratic primary, the five candidates offer a great variety of experience but only subtle differences in political philosophy. As far as anyone can judge from their debates and position statements, each would follow the progressive footsteps of Snyder and the former U. S. senators, Dale Bumpers and David Pryor. The candidates are David Boling, Snyder’s chief of staff; John Adams, a young Little Rock lawyer and assistant attorney general; state Sen. Joyce Elliott, a former school teacher who also served four terms in the Arkansas House of Representatives; state Rep. Robbie Wills of Conway, the current speaker of the House, and Patrick Kennedy, who was until recently director of public programs at the Clinton School of Public Service.

Each makes a good case for Snyder’s mantle, and a voter is not likely to go wrong whomever he or she chooses. With little room among them to choose a distinctive philosophy, our recommendation is Senator Elliott based on her experience. She taught school for 31 years and has been one of the most effective legislators of modern times. That is remarkable for one who is so distinctly a minority in the legislature. She is an African American and a woman. The Arkansas Democrat Gazette twice named her one of the 10 best legislators. She helped craft the education reforms that consumed the legislature for six years.
Elliott’s campaign has presented Democrats with a dilemma. No matter how popular she has been in her own constituency and among Democrats, many doubt that an African American and a woman can win in the big district in November and they opt for a more practical political choice since there are good ones. But there is little profit in distrusting voters. After all, she was elected the majority leader of the white- and male-dominated Senate, which is about as representative of Arkansas as you can get.

Our recommendation is Joyce Elliott in the Democratic primary.

Republicans have a different dilemma, a paucity of choices. The candidates are Tim Griffin, a former White House operative who has been the center of a maelstrom over Justice Department corruption, and Scott Wallace, a restaurateur and longtime Little Rock businessman. National Republicans are backing Griffin, who was an acolyte of Karl Rove, the White House political director under George W. Bush. Leading Arkansas Republicans like former Gov. Mike Huckabee and former U. S. Rep. John Paul

Hammerschmidt support Wallace.

How they might vote is not an issue. Either would vote 100 percent of the time with the Republican stance or else he would not be around long. So what else do you want in a congressman?

Griffin is a political operative and nothing more. He won his spurs with the party by manufacturing political attacks on Democrats, first for the party and then for the White House. When the White House decided that a number of Republican prosecutors around the country were not using their jobs to discredit Democrats and protect Republicans, it had them fired and replaced by men like Griffin who were not so committed to impartial justice. Bush sneaked Griffin into the U. S. attorney’s job for east Arkansas by a recess appointment, angering even good Republicans like John Boozman. Unable to be confirmed, Griffin left after a few months to run for Congress.

Wallace doesn’t have such a checkered past, although a few Republicans have questioned his ownership of a liquor store. He sold the store to Philander Smith College, which considered it a nuisance to the next-door campus and shut it down.

But Scott Wallace doesn’t seem to be out to get anybody. For us, that makes him an easy choice in the Republican primary.