Monday, October 18, 2010

EDITORIAL >> Another term for Gov. Beebe

Arkansas at rare times has had a visionary governor, a brilliant governor or a governor passionately committed to reform, and it has had three dozen chief executives of whom it could be said simply that they served their time and moved on.

Now we have a competent governor. Competent may be a derogatory description of a political leader, but Mike Beebe has raised competence to the level of genius.

He takes care of all the little details of governance, he achieves every single thing he sets out to do, and he seems never to commit the slightest blunder in speech or action. Unlike his predecessor, the glib Mike Huckabee, he never utters an embarrassing blooper, whether he is yakking to the media in New York City or Searcy. He has seemed from inauguration day — actually, before that — to know exactly what he was doing.

Beebe has never exhibited the brilliance of Bill Clinton, reached the catalog of achievements of Dale Bumpers in four years or tried to do so much as Winthrop Rockefeller. But he may belong in the upper rank of Arkansas governors.

What did that boring competence produce? When the national economy began its long fearful plunge in the winter of 2007 the state governments in every region were unable to put up a firewall. The state fiscal crises fed the national crisis as the state capitals slashed employment and services and searched for emergency tax measures to stem the shortfall. But in Little Rock, the government hummed right along. No layoffs, no cuts in services, merely a payroll freeze.

Beebe was the best-prepared governor in history. For 20 years he mastered the budget, the fiscal system and the intricacies of government programs as the leader of the Senate and the joint budget committee. He had seen the state through four fiscal crises and it would not happen on his watch. He nimbly turns a political controversy and a newspaper exposé into a modest reform of government administration. Witness the squabble over executive vehicle policies.

In a year when an incumbent in any office faces swelling anger, voters seem ready to give competence another chance. Beebe has exceeded our expectations and we endorse him for a second term.

His opponent, Jim Keet, is a good and bright man, but he has demonstrated almost the opposite of competence. We once liked his prospects when he served short but promising stints in the legislature two decades ago before he went to Florida to pursue a career in restaurant management. He returned last year and prepared to run for governor. There is a serious question about whether the state Constitution permits him to be governor, but no one wants to challenge his right to run and no one should object if the voters elect him.

But everything he does blows up in his face. He questioned Beebe’s attentiveness to the details of governance, but then the state’s Republican statewide paper reported over and over that he had failed to pay his personal and business taxes, either on time or at all. He blamed his wife, his accountant and his employees for all the slip-ups and for not knowing what the law required a homeowner and a businessman to do.

Keet is not stupid or without skills and he is not a tax cheat. Not one of his screw-ups, we are sure, was a willful effort to escape his responsibilities.

We just like the sense that the person who is running the government is not bungling anything. Keet should spend the next four years watching a master of statecraft.