Monday, December 24, 2012

EDITORIAL >> McDaniel and Asa

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel had raised more than $1 million this fall for a race for governor that is nearly two years away, but he may need much, much more. Forced by legal proceedings in Hot Springs, McDaniel had to reveal that he had been running around on his second wife.

So wherever politics is discussed this week, the question is whether his campaign was doomed before it really began or whether the political climate and the culture have so changed the past 20 years that McDaniel’s confessed philandering will be no more than a minor setback to his burning ambition. This is, after all, the home of Bill Clinton, the most admired politician in America and still revered in his home state, where his first known dalliances outside his marriage occurred.

It will depend, we imagine, on whether the scandal is behind him now or there is more to be revealed. The circumstances already are sordid enough. Having been married only briefly after the breakup of his first marriage, McDaniel in 2010 met Andrea Davis, a flamboyant Hot Springs lawyer, and soon afterward began a brief “inappropriate interaction,” as he described it, with her. They were on opposite sides in a big school lawsuit, he defending the state school-choice law and she representing parents who were fighting it because the law kept their children from transferring to schools where there were fewer blacks. The state ethics committee that monitors the conduct of lawyers may be forced to decide whether McDaniel was obligated by law to disclose his unusual “interaction” with the opposing counsel. To say the least, it is bothersome. (He lost the case.)

Davis has been in a high-profile battle with a female circuit judge in Garland County, who ordered her to wear a surgical mask during a trial because of her coughing and another time told her to go home and don more discreet clothing because her blouse revealed so much cleavage that it was disturbing inmates who were brought into the courtroom. Davis modeled the offending blouse and a surgical mask for a photographer for the Arkansas Times and told the paper’s reporter: “I admit I have boobs and I like them, but I was not wearing a damn sparkly halter top in the courtroom.”

Rumors of the McDaniels-Davis affair began to circulate this month after Davis’ estranged husband filed motions in a custody dispute asking her to admit that she had an affair with McDaniel in 2011 or 2012 and she dodged the question by saying it was none of the court’s business and was just harassment.

The Arkansas Democrat Gazette’s article about McDaniel’s admission last week carried a photograph of a disheveled Davis being led away from her house in handcuffs after police were called to investigate the murder of a young man in her driveway. She apparently had called the police and was kneeling beside the body when the police arrived. No charges have been filed and the police say they still have no suspect.

Such flamboyance does not serve the attorney general’s keen interest in public forgetfulness. A run-of-the-mill affair might soon be dismissed by voters, most of whom have witnessed similar problems in their families or among friends.

Affairs have rarely been politically fatal if you say you are sorry and have been in prayer about it. Just south of us, Louisiana voters quickly forgave and re-elected U. S. Sen. David Vitter, a right-wing “family values” Republican after his name showed up on the telephone list of a famous Washington, D. C., madam as a regular client of her prostitutes. Like McDaniel and so many others, Vitter said he was very sorry and that he had prayed fervently about it and been forgiven.

A Republican official said McDaniel’s affair would be an issue in the governor’s race in 2014, but only one of many. You can already hear the commercials, “If his wives couldn’t trust him, why should you?”

Much depends on his opponent. McDaniel is the only announced candidate, but Asa Hutchinson is expected to announce again next month for the Republican nomination. Hutchinson, a former congressman, has been beaten for the U. S. Senate, attorney general and governor, but he is likely to be the Republican nominee. Polls show Hutchinson and McDaniel neck and neck two years out. Hutchinson, meanwhile, will head the National Rifle Association’s program to arm school officials and volunteers against violent intruders. So help us.

McDaniel’s extramarital affair might be a delicate issue for Hutchinson, whose family has been scandalized by the same behavior, over and over.

Brother Tim, the senior U. S. senator at the time, was having an affair with an aide when he was sitting in judgment of Clinton during his impeachment trial in the Senate for dalliances with Monica Lewinsky. Hutchinson voted to convict the president. Tim divorced his wife and married the woman, but he was beaten in his next election, in 2002.

Asa’s nephew, state Sen. Jim Hendren, admitted to an affair in 2001 when he was running for Congress in the Third District to succeed Asa on a platform to “reverse the decline in moral values.”

Earlier this year, another of Asa’s nephews, state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson (Tim’s son), had his mistress arrested at his condominium when she beat him up with a preserved alligator head after he had thrown her down and busted her lip. They had met while she was a waitress at a pizza restaurant and he put her up in a condo and gave her living money. His marriage broke up over such stuff.

Something tells us Hutchinson won’t make much of the Davis matter. Too bad, in a way. They are two boring politicians otherwise.