Saturday, October 19, 2013

Something Stirring In Arkansas-- Besides Just More Republican Party Sedition?


James Lee Witt

Arkansas freshman Rep. Tom Cotton is one of the most radical right extremists in the House and is considered a major mover-and-shaker in the GOP sabotage of the U.S. government and the American economy. When you hear talk about radicals unwilling to compromise and who are willing to drive the economy right over the cliff, Cotton is foremost among them. So, of course the NRSC recruited him to run for the Arkansas Senate seat held by vulnerable ConservaDem Blanche Lincoln Mark Talking Snake Pryor.

The good thing about his Senate run is that he'll be gone from the House. The 4th CD-- most of the western part of Arkansas, including Hot Springs, Pine Bluff, El Dorado and Texarkana-- is poorer and more conservative than the rest of the state. Compared to Arkansas' median household income of $38,758, the 4th's is $34,630, making it the poorest district in one of the poorest states. Arkansas gave Romney a 61-37% win over Obama. The 4th, which has a PVI of R+15, gave Romney a 62-36% win. Romney won every county in the district and of those 33 counties, Cotton beat Democrat Gene Jeffress in 30, including the biggest one, Garland (66%).

Once Cotton announced he would run for the Senate, several right-wing Republicans announced their intention to run, including Lt. Governor Mark Darr (who already dropped out after being caught cheating on campaign finance), state House majority leader/former football player Bruce Westerman, who lost a primary battle against Cotton last year, businessman Tommy Moll and a gun-totin' former Miss America, Beth Anne Rankin (Mike Huckabee's candidate).

Can a Democrat even hope to win a district this red? Arkansas Democrats have their hopes up right now because former FEMA director James Lee Witt has all but announced his candidacy. So, you wonder? Well, way back in the day when Clinton was governor of the state, he appointed Witt to be the head of the Arkansas Office of Emergency Services. Witt is remembered for having reorganizing the department and making it work. In fact, he did so well that when Clinton became president, he appointed Witt to head FEMA. Before Witt, FEMA was considered a joke, a political dumping ground (which George W. Bush turned it into again, with disastrous consequences for the city of New Orleans). But when Witt ran the show, he was widely acknowledged for doing a stupendous job and making the sprawling organization work well. From an editorial in the Atlanta Constitution, 1996: "FEMA has developed a sterling reputation for delivering disaster-relief services, a far cry from its abysmal standing before James Lee Witt took its helm in 1993. How did Witt turn FEMA around so quickly? Well, he is the first director of the agency to have emergency-management experience. He stopped the staffing of the agency by political patronage. He removed layers of bureaucracy. Most important, he instilled in the agency a spirit of preparedness, of service to the customer, of willingness to listen to ideas of local and state officials to make the system work better."

I guess it's a chance for a Democrat to win a seat deep in the heart of red. He certainly fits the DCCC claim that they're trying to recruit "problem solvers." In fact, Witt is the granddaddy of problem solvers. Steve Israel has also been hinting the DCCC is recruiting someone to run in AR-02 against another crackpot extremist, Tim Griffin. That's the Little Rock district, where there is at least an electoral base for a Democrat to build on-- even if Saline, Lonoke and Faulkner counties have drifted so far right that it is now unlikely that any mainstream candidate could win. Possibilities for AR-02 include ex-Lt. Governor Bill Halter, former North Little Rock Mayor Pat Hays and former state Rep. Linda Tyler (from Faulkner County).

UPDATE: And Witt Jumps In!

If the Democrats win this one, it will certainly be the reddest district in the country they flip. But Witt jumped in today. In prepared remarks, he said, "I've spent my adult life bringing people together at the toughest times of their lives and dealing with disasters. Nowhere needs disaster relief more than Washington. No place needs to be brought together more than Congress."

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