by Mark Moore
I am not sure that the Republican party is even interested in pleasing their base anymore. Though professional excuse-makers try to spin it, there is now plenty of evidence to suggest they are merely the controlled opposition for one pro-government party which has two faces, even if not all of their officeholders are in on the deception.
The Arkansas Senate is a good example of the profound disrespect the Republican political class routinely displays for those who fought hardest to put them in office. The message of not only the base, but the people of Arkansas generally, was that they rejected the Democrats and they rejected Obamacare. This includes the so-called “Private” option endorsed and funded by the majority of Republican Senators in 2012.
The “Private” option (which is not even really private, it just has private entities benefiting from a government program) is nothing other than the exact method by which the Republicans in Arkansas caved to the Democrats on Obamacare. Pro-“private” option Republicans were rejected by the voters in election after election. In spite of this, the Republican State Senators are about to march down to Little Rock and vote for one of the architects of the Republican cave on Obamacare as the President Pro Tem of the Senate.
Johnathan Dismang was elected the designated President Pro Tem by the previous Republican Senate- one which had five more pro-“private” option Senators than the current Senate does after the voters did some house-cleaning. Back then the choices were Dismang and Johnny Key, who was also for Obamacare. The new crop of senators are mostly acting like they are somehow bound by the actions of the prior, more liberal, Senate in their choice of leader. Conservative Senator Gary Stubblefield has tried to mount a challenge to this odd choice, but he can’t seem to get enough votes. Even some of the more conservative holdovers are acting like they vowed to back Dismang no matter what last year, instead of just selecting him in preference to the other choice at the time- someone who made even more bad calls than he did.
If Dismang had changed, these Senators might be able to argue that they could keep their word to the voters to oppose the “Private” option version of Obamacare even while voting him in as President Pro Tem, but there is little evidence to suggest he has and much to suggest that he has not. This excellent piece by Conduit for Action explains some of the particulars on that, both in the House and the Senate.
So far I have just outlined the problem. That is always the easy part. Fortunately a solution is also available, should the Republicans have any interest whatsoever in pleasing their base, listening to the message the people as a whole just sent at the polls, or even simply keeping their oaths of office. You see, Dismang is about to be elected to the office of “President Pro Tem” of the Senate. The “tem” is Latin for “acting” or “temporary”. This raises the question, who is supposed to be “President Pro Permanent“?
According to the Constitution of the Great State of Arkansas, the Lieutenant Governor is to be the President of the Senate. When Arkansas was a one-party state and that party was the Democrats who tend to a herd mentality even more than the Republicans, that did not matter so much. It was all “good ole-boy” stuff so it did not matter how power was divided on paper. Then Mike Huckabee got elected Lt. Governor and the Democrats changed the rules of the Senate so that the Lt. Governor was stripped of almost all of his power. If Huckabee had been interested in hanging around as Lt. Governor he might have challenged them on it, but since he was angling on being Governor soon anyway there was no motive for him to press the question.
Other states, such as Texas, have very similar wording in their state constitutions as to the role of the Lt. Governor and in those states the office is very powerful, some would say the most powerful in the state except for Governor. The difference is not in the wording of the Constitutions, it is that in Texas and other states they follow their state constitution on this question and in Arkansas we have not. Then our chattering classes in the media make snide remarks about how “useless” the office is. Well, yes I suppose any office would be “useless” if the legislature made an extra-constitutional move which had the effect of stripping away its most important function, but that does not mean the office is worthless, it means the legislature is derelict.
Our state apparently once thought it important that at least one chamber of the legislature be presided over by a person who answered to all of the people of the state, not just a single legislative district. That is why we need a Lt.Governor. We saw what happened in the House last year, when Davy Carter went crazy and tried to make the house vote on the exact same bill, day after day until they gave him the vote that he wanted. I was disgusted by it, but he was not “my” legislator and did not answer to me. At least one chamber of the legislature should be run by someone who answers to the whole state, and that is what the Lt. Governor is for.
It is interesting to note that some Senators have talked of sponsoring a bill that would ask people to vote to abolish the office of Lt. Governor. And with Amendment three passing (using deceptive language that it would “establish” term limits when it was in fact greatly weakening them) Dismang could wind up as President Pro Tem not for one or two sessions, but for many years. My position is that a man who wants that much power should have to answer to the whole state, not just one Senate district.
Look, I am not a Tim Griffin fan, to put it mildly. People who read my stuff know that, but this is not about my personal preferences, this is about the Rule of Law. The fact is he is Lt. Governor and the Constitution says that the Lt. Governor is the President of the Senate. He ran on the idea that the Lt. Governor is President of the Senate. He should be making all of the decisions that the “President Pro Tem” has been making in our recent history, including who chairs what committee.
All of those Senators who won’t back Stubblefield over Dismang because they “gave their word” that they would vote Dismang for Pro Tem can still vote Dismang for Pro Tem, but if they want to also “keep their word” to the voters to oppose the “private” option and uphold their oath to the state Constitution then they should do two more things. They should vote to repeal the rules the Senate put in after Huckabee was elected which stripped the Lt. Governor of power the state constitution says he should have and replace those rules with ones that comport with what the Constitution says. Then they should call up Griffin and ask him to get to work.
Arkansas Constitution, Amendment 6, section five…… “5. Qualifications and duties of Lieutenant Governor – Succession to the governorship.