Friday, June 04, 2010

EDITORIAL >>We support Bill Halter

Democrats who vote in the U. S. Senate race Tuesday will try to solve one of three equations, or perhaps all three.

Is Sen. Blanche Lincoln or Lieut. Gov. Bill Halter the stronger candidate against the Republican nominee, Rep. John Boozman, in November when the odds in an unusually turbulent season do not favor any Democrat?

Who is most apt to vote in the interest of ordinary people, and who is most likely to cater to the special interests, like the petroleum industry, when those interests collide, and who is likely to have the stronger and more influential voice in the Capitol?

Do Lincoln’s 12 years of seniority and her chairmanship of a major committee confer big advantages for Arkansas that a freshman could not deliver?

We don’t discount a fourth and often the most persuasive factor in elections. On a visceral level, you may just like one or dislike the other.

Our own reflections on those issues make Halter the favorite. That is in spite of the fact that his largest accomplishment and chief claim on the affection of voters is the state lottery, which we continue to believe has one notable economic and social effect, a significant shift of wealth from the poor upwards in the form of profits for gaming syndicates and college tuition for middle- and upper-class youngsters.

For diehard Democrats, Halter is electable in November, and all the polls and anecdotal evidence suggest that Lincoln, likable though she is, is not. She won twice, but not impressively, against men whose crackpot ideas alarmed many voters. Remember the late Fay Boozman’s insistence in the 1998 campaign that rape and incest victims never got pregnant because of “God’s little shield”? A doctor, Boozman believed that women could get pregnant only when they liked having sex.

Lincoln has gotten some impressive help in this campaign, from President Obama, former President Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden, but she seems incapable of making the case for herself.

Her message is a simplistic one. She is, pure and simple, for Arkansas people; the implication is that her opponent is not.

There are 2.9 million Arkansawyers, but fewer than a fourth of 1 percent of them will ever benefit from her big crusade to exempt people who inherit great wealth from having to pay taxes on their vast income as everyone else must do on their modest wages.

Fewer than 5 percent of Arkansawyers saw any measurable benefit from the big tax cuts for high incomes that she supported at the same time as the estate-tax repeal, which plunged the nation once again into debt. She shares all those votes with the fall opponent, John Boozman, Fay’s younger brother.

We cannot say that Halter will do better than her modest voting record. We thought she would be better when we elected her in 1998. Halter says that the interests of working middle-income families would decide his position on tax and economic issues. We choose to be trusting that he means it.

Lincoln pins her hopes on a backlash to the spending of a couple of international unions, the service and government workers unions, to help Halter. You’ve seen their ads. President Clinton made her most effective commercial this week by pointing out that the unions wanted to make an example of the good woman from Arkansas to put fear into the hearts of other senators who might be tempted to stray.

But let us remember what that dispute is all about. She took union contributions gratefully, enjoyed their endorsements and sponsored the now infamous “card-check bill,” which would have lowered the barriers for union recognition at big companies like Walmart. When the bill suddenly looked passable in 2009 and business groups told her they needed her to switch sides, she did, with a vengeance. No one is meaner than a jilted and humiliated suitor.

She is the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, a position of considerable prestige and some power. Are the economic interests of Arkansas farmers invested in that power? She will, indeed, be in a somewhat better position than most to preserve farm subsidies, but they do not seem to be in jeopardy. Farmers don’t seem to be worried.

The former head of the Farm Bureau and a big farmer, her old friend and supporter Stanley Reed of Marianna, ran against her for a few days back in the winter and then pulled out after it was revealed that his professed intention to go to Washington to stop deficit spending was a little hypocritical.

The government — that’s us — had handed him more than $5 million in direct subsidies just between 1996 and 2007. Now he’s running Boozman’s campaign. If people who have gotten rich off the government farm programs aren’t worried about losing the Ag chairmanship, should we?

We like Blanche Lincoln; we support Bill Halter.