Friday, June 20, 2014

EDITORIAL >> Cotton skips tomato festival

The political scientists say the old style of retail politics, where politicians met people in person and made speeches at rallies and regional festivals, is fast becoming passé. What counts now is media messaging, the very costly kind. Tom Cotton, the young candidate for the United States Senate, is putting that notion to the test like no one else.

Here is the shocker. Cotton didn’t show up for the Pink Tomato Festival last week at Warren, the first candidate for major political office in memory to skip it if he wasn’t sick.

It has been an inviolable rule that a politician had to appear at the Pink Tomato Festival, the Gillett Coon Supper, the Mount Nebo Chicken Fry and the serial Fourth of July celebrations in Clay and Greene counties.

Sen. Mark Pryor was at the tomato festival, as he is every year, competing in the tomato-eating contest, a dignity-fouling event where the politician wears a bib to keep from dribbling pink tomato over his clothing. Rep. Cotton, who has represented the district in the House of Representatives for the last year and a half, didn’t show and his campaign office offered no explanation.

Then The Nation magazine came out with a big spread on the Koch brothers (the $100-billion-net-worth industrialists), who had a summer political seminar for 300 of America’s richest men at the palatial St. Regis Monarch Bay resort in southern California (rooms start at $495 a night) on the weekend of the Pink Tomato Festival. Cotton was among three or four Senate candidates backed by the libertarian Koch brothers who were there, along with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the prospective 2016 presidential candidate Marco Rubio of Florida and one libertarian House member seeking re-election.

The Nation said each of the invited businessmen was worth at least a billion dollars, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Documents from the gathering indicated they discussed strategy for a Republican takeover of the Senate this November and for blocking global-warming regulations and campaign-finance reform, along with scuttling the Affordable Care Act.

The guests are expected to put up or raise $500 million to elect Cotton and the others who are considered vital to getting a Republican majority in the Senate and to strengthen the Republican cohort in the House.

Cotton has been a favorite of the Kochs and their political funding organizations like Americans for Prosperity since his short stint as a big-business consultant and then as a prospective political candidate.

While Pryor was gulping ripe tomatoes at Warren, Cotton was golfing with a select group of billionaires at the Monarch Bay resort. Then he dined with them at La Casa Pacifica, the former “Western White House” when Richard Nixon was president but now owned by Gavin Herbert, the billionaire founder of a pharmaceutical company and a major donor to Republicans and the American Legislative Exchange Council, which supplies model conservative legislation to libertarian state lawmakers. The dinner fare was “oven-roasted Angus natural filet mignon served in a fresh green peppercorn sauce served with braised fennel with truffle, asparagus tips, vegetable and mint quinoa.”

So which was the shrewdest political step, slurping tomatoes with locals on the Bradley County square or golfing, dining and chewing the fat with some of the world’s richest men?

You’ll get an idea when you see the endless barrage of commercials and circulars attacking Pryor as an Obama clone in the months ahead. The Pink Tomato Festival? Long forgotten. Or that’s the new theory.