Arkansas Dems, Montana’s Brian Schweitzer: Let’s Spend the Night Together
Am I at a Republican event?
Loud, booming music about America plays over a loud speaker. I feel like General Douglas MacArthur could rise from the dead and storm to the podium at any minute.
For so many years, Democrats have reliably played John Cougar Mellencamp, Bon Jovi and U2 songs at these events to the point of musical exhaustion for reporters. But tonight it’s seemingly John Phillip Sousa’s greatest hits on a loop. I’d take “Beautiful Day” over charging military anthems, but nobody asked me..
Welcome to the Democratic Party of Arkansas’ Jefferson-Jackson Dinner 2011. Yee-haw!
At these events, news is seldom made. People get awards. They eat a buffet dinner. They drink. Switch “greedy Republicans” for “tax and spend” Democrats and you have the same thing at the GOP’s annual dinner. This is a red-meat event meant to fire up the party faithful.
Speaking of red meat – tonight’s buffet dinner is (surprisingly) beef instead of chicken. We media always sit at a back table and don’t get to eat. Since journalism ethics require us to starve rather than accept a slice of cheesecake. At this event, media wasn’t allowed to pay a small ticket price – $10 to $15 – to enjoy a buffet while waiting for the main speaker: The colorful Montana Governor, Brian Schweitzer. Alas, I should have packed a picnic to this shindig.
The temperature is freezing in Verizon Arena. Not chilly, not cool. Close to sub-zero. Sarah Palin would feel right at home if the room wasn’t filled with 1,300 Democrats.
This is not the glamorous part of a girl reporter’s life. Waiting and watching – that’s the name of the game.
Fashion makes for colorful entertainment. For women, the dresses range from ultra casual to full-on fancy formals with glittery high heels. One woman wears a necklace that looked more like a chandelier than jewelry. A girl almost teeters out of her glittery gold too-high-heeled pumps right in front of the media table. Whew! Good thing her beau was there to catch her.
Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe soon arrives and the television camera guys buzzes around him. He sticks to talking points, chatting about how Democratic candidates could get elected in 2012. (Hardworking candidates who are known in their districts, he says.) Confession: My attention wanes. My eye roams to the cute guy in his security detail. Did he just wink at me?
Beebe moves along to mingle because that’s what politicians do at these events. Shake hands and chat.
Plates of food attached to the hands of Democrats march past the media pen. My stomach growls. I’m cold. If this was a hashtag, #unhappy would be it.
Media usually stays in its assigned area, but in case we didn’t know that, arena officials suddenly arrive in front of the table and sticks down bold black and yellow striped tape. What happens if we cross it? Hmm. Will Beebe’s cute security guy tackle me?
The show starts with Gabe Holmstrom, who once worked for former Rep. Marion Berry. Berry has been diagnosed with lymphoma. Holstrom wants everyone to yell a get well wish for Berry while he recorded it on his iPhone. It doesn’t go so well as everyone is out of sync. It’s the thought that counts, right?
An invocation by Democratic stalwart Jimmie Lou Fisher follows. Amen.
Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor addresses the crowd next, explaining to Schweitzer how everyone works together in Arkansas. “Even the Baptists and Methodists work together sometimes.” He adds that there were limits to this.
It becomes hard to focus because I really long for a pair of mittens as a cold wind blows across my notepad.
The new Arkansas Party Chairman, Will Bond, who looks like Harry Potter minus the scar, introduces a video about Arkansas Democrats. I don’t know any of the people in the video although one guy Mark who runs his own business looks vaguely familiar.
A bevy of presentations followed before Rep. Mike Ross (who announced less than 48 hours later that he would not seek re-election in 2012) hit the stage. He targets Republican Rep. Tim Griffin and Rep. Rick Crawford, saying Griffin already thinks he is running for senator and Crawford still has a deer in the headlights look in his eyes. Ouch.
More constitutional officers speak before Beebe, like a Baptist preacher, gets the crowd fired up about tax cuts, job losses and the overall ills of the country.
“The strength of the country has always been in the center,” he says.
I’m hungry. I tweet that I’m hungry. Maybe someone will hear my pleas.
Finally, the man of the night Schweitzer, in casual dress and wearing a bolo tie, blasts onto the stage. He says he hated to leave Montana in July because the state only gets two months of summer. Beebe, however, told him that Montana and Arkansas has the same weather.
“You get down to 74 and we get up to 74 in the day,” he says.
Ah ha! That’s why it is so cold in the arena. They want to make Schweitzer feel right at home. I hope I don’t catch pneumonia on this assignment. Some people are covering themselves with napkins. Maybe I can take the blue skirt off the table and whip it into a cape. A cape revolution! (Note to self: Watch more DIY shows.)
Schweitzer spins yarns about the Big Sky state, which he loves dearly. He makes it sound romantic with its beauty, wind energy and people living to be 114 years old. How much does a plane ticket to Montana cost?
Three slices of cheesecake arrive at our table from the state director of a non-partisan organization, Americans for Prosperity. Two of the reporters don’t trust it. Ethics be damned. I’m starving. The only food I have eaten all day is a cat-head biscuit. At the moment, I could eat the whole cat. It’s not as yummy as a wedge from the Cheesecake Factory, but it’ll keep my blood sugar to plummeting to zero as Schweitzer carries on. Montana runs deep in him.
In my peripheral vision, the cute security guy lurks. OMG. Has he been watching me scarf this dessert as if it is my last meal on death row? #embarrassing
Schweitzer finally wraps up his cowboy storytelling just as I enjoy the last bite of cheesecake. Perfect timing, Mr. Montana.