Wednesday, October 27, 2010

EDITORIAL >> Broadway our choice

The most useless job in Arkansas is that of lieutenant governor, followed in rank order by his employees. But we spend a lot of money, effort and vain emotion every four years electing him because, potentially, whom we elect can make a little difference. He may amount to something important some day. Three lieutenant governors, Harvey Parnell in 1928, Jim Guy Tucker in 1992 and Mike Huckabee in 1996 later became governors.

So let’s take the election this year halfway seriously. The candidates are state Sen.Shane Broadway of Bryant and Mark Darr, who owns the Mad Pizza Co. at Rogers.

The Constitution assigns the lieutenant governor only one function, which is to preside over the state Senate during the few weeks a year that it is in session. If he misses a few days or a whole year, nothing is amiss because the president pro tempore of the Senate or another senator presides. The lieutenant governor does not vote and cannot influence legislation or the voting. He is supposed to recognize senators without favoritism to make motions and to speak. That is why we pay the lieutenant governor a part-time salary.

Other than preside over the Senate, the lieutenant governor hangs around so that if the governor leaves the state for an extended period he will be around for ceremonial events and to sign proclamations. But here is why the election is important: If something happens to the governor, the lieutenant governor rises to the big job.

No one could argue who is the better qualified for the single constitutional duty of guiding the parliamentary affairs of the Senate. Broadway has done it, both in the Senate and the House of Representatives. He was the speaker of the Arkansas House and one of the most effective lawmakers of modern times. He was chairman of the Southern Legislative Conference, an association of Republican and Democratic legislators from 15 states.

But that doesn’t disqualify Darr. He could learn to do it. The Senate would provide a parliamentarian to sit with him and help him follow parliamentary rules.

Darr’s problem has seemed to be that he didn’t know what the lieutenant governor’s job was. He has campaigned on the promise to try to repeal the national health-insurance reform law. Congress does that, not the Arkansas Senate or its parliamentary officer. The lieutenant governor cannot introduce a bill or speak for one.

But what if something were to happen to Mike Beebe or Jim Keet, whoever is the next governor, before he finishes his term? Broadway’s knowledge of state government and the state’s problems is deep and extensive, second only perhaps to Mike Beebe’s. He has shaped the most important legislation of our times, the vast educational reforms of the past decade, the new statewide emergency-trauma system, the tobacco-settlement program, the economic- development initiatives and the tight budgets that have kept Arkansas from plunging to the depths of most states during the deepest and longest recession in 75 years. Darr has uttered a few platitudes — the state government is too big and wastes money — but otherwise he knows the pizza business in Rogers.

Let’s play it safe and elect Shane Broadway.