Sometimes the local boy really is the superlative candidate, not just the favorite son for whom support is obligatory. Pat O’Brien has about the best credentials one could have for secretary of state, and he also is lucky in his opponent, perhaps the state legislature’s leading abuser of the public trust.
A county clerk, especially the clerk of the state’s largest county, has the perfect training for secretary of state. Both are the custodians of the vital public records, and they are the voting registrars and supervisors of elections. A county clerk is actually more deeply involved in the conduct of elections and in tending to their efficiency and integrity than is the secretary of state.
Everyone surely remembers the scandalous conditions at the Pulaski County Courthouse when O’Brien came along in 2004 and secured the circuit and county clerk’s job. Judges and the prosecutor were ready to invoke legal proceedings to remove the clerk from office. The job was simply over the head of the poor clerk and her staff. Perry County she might have handled. Every election was bollixed so badly that droves of fuming voters left the polls not to return. The courts had to order the polls to stay open past hours because of the confusion. No one could be sure of the accuracy of the votes. Nearly 300,000 names were on the voter rolls but nearly a fourth of them were questionable. The lines for people who were voting early snaked through the halls of the Courthouse and onto the street.
O’Brien went to work overhauling the registration and the voting system. The Pulaski elections two years later were models of efficiency, the smoothest and quickest in a dozen years. Voting became a pleasure again, not a nightmare. He developed an early-voting system that had people in and out of the polls within three or four minutes in the 2010 primaries.
When the state car wars began this summer and practically every public official was sullied by his or her abuse of official vehicles, O’Brien said he would not have a state car — he will be the first in perhaps 30 years not to have one — and every employee in the department will be barred from using a vehicle for personal travel. He said he expected to reduce the department’s fleet by a third. He doesn’t drive a county car.
And his opponent, state Rep. Mark Martin? He has served unnoticeably in the House of Representatives for six years. Term limits bar him from running again and he needs to find a place to land. Last year, House records show that he pocketed $56,000 in expense checks for his legislative service. That is in addition to his state salary and per diem. Martin seems to have nothing in the way of a career and travels to Little Rock for legislative committees when he is not even a member of the committees, collecting reimbursement for the expenses in the capital city and along the way. The taxpayers rent an office for him in Springdale during the roughly 300 days of the year that the legislature is not in session. That is his campaign office, too, so the taxpayers are subsidizing it, too.
For secretary of state, the Leader recommends a vote for Pat O’Brien.