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Arkansas Dems, Montana’s Brian Schweitzer: Let’s Spend the Night Together

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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.


Written by suziparker1313

July 26, 2011 at 3:49 pm

On His Birthday: An Ode to Ernest Hemingway’s Arkansas Sanctuary

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Two-lane roads criss-cross the fertile Delta farmland in northeast Arkansas. Small towns and cotton gins pepper the landscape. In a blink, you’d miss Piggott, a town of about 2,000 people.

It’s certainly a long way from Havana, Paris, Madrid or Key West.

Ernest Hemingway probably thought this very thing when he arrived here in 1927 on the arm of his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, whose family lived in the small town. He was 28.

From 1927 until the couple separated in 1936, Hemingway often visited Piggott with his wife and their two children. The Pfeiffer House still stands outside Piggott’s town square, surrounded by large oaks, green grass and the occasional wildflower. Behind the two-story wood framed home, a converted barn turned studio holds secrets from the Hemingway days. It was in this studio that Hemingway wrote part of “A Farewell to Arms” as well as sections of numerous short stories.

After gathering clues and solving mysteries about Hemingway’s time at the house, two women – Dr. Ruth Hawkins and Claudia Shannon – along with Arkansas State University in Jonesboro have transformed the house into the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Education Center.

“We wanted the house to be true to the time when Hemingway lived here,” said Shannon, president of Shannon Design Enterprises in Jonesboro and restoration director for the center. “We wanted people to feel like they stepped back into time.” Hawkins is vice presidentof institutional advancement at Arkansas State and project director for the center.

Piggott, too, appears frozen in time, as if Papa Hemingway just caught a train out of here last week. It retains a certain charm that has been lost in other cities with the advent of Wal-Mart and other chain stores.

Piggott doesn’t have chain stores and doesn’t want any within its city limits.

Seals Pharmacy on the town square still serves ice cream sodas and sundaes on its marble counter top. Antique shops dot the streets. The only thing missing is the 1800s courthouse, torn down in the 1970s for a more modern building.

Andy Griffith made the 1957 film A Face in the Crowd in Piggott, and residents still insist Piggott was the basis for television’s Mayberry. The town is now banking on Papa Hemingway, not Wal-Mart, to revitalize its economy and renovate its town square.

“I can safely say that 70 percent of businesses will benefit from the Hemingway connection due to tourism and the kind of tourism it will generate,” said Rodney Rouse, president of Arkansas Bank and a co-chairman of a group aimed at renovating Piggott.

But for love

The love story of the 1910 Hemingway-Pfeiffer farmhouse and its restoration oozes much of the same romance and happenstance that filled Hemingway’s life with Pauline Pfeiffer.

Pauline Pfeiffer Hemingway grew up in St. Louis and moved to Piggott with her family in 1913 when her father, Paul, bought a house in the rural town and left the family pharmaceutical business.

Despising the city, Paul Pfeiffer began acquiring land during the early 1900s in the swampy, timbered-out flatland of northeastern Arkansas and soon accumulated 63,000 acres, which he divided into farms for sharecroppers. He also constructed a cotton gin and created the successful Piggott Land Company in 1929.

When the Depression struck, Piggott families struggled to generate income. Paul Pfeiffer was their savior. He chartered the Piggott State Bank in 1930, becoming its first president and loaning money to whomever needed it. He bought hundreds of quilts from women in the area in order to give them something rather than a handout.

Paul Pfeiffer also hired people to paint the house when another coat of paint wasn’t even needed. During restoration, Shannon said she found 40 layers of paint on the house.

Pauline, the oldest of four children, was a well-educated, devout Catholic. She graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism in 1918 and traveled to New York, where she wrote for various magazines. Pauline loved fashion and writing and landed a position with Vogue’s Paris office.

In 1925, Pauline, a chic flapper, met Hemingway, a struggling writer, and his wife, Hadley Richardson, a St. Louis woman and the mother of his son Jack. The three became friends, but Hadley was soon pushed out of the picture.

In the fall of 1926, Hemingway and Pauline agreed to Hadley’s request – that the couple spend 100 days apart. If at the end of that time they were still in love, Hadley would sign the papers setting Hemingway free.

The attraction continued. Hemingway and Pauline married in 1927 and lived the Paris literary life with other American expatriate writers.

Hemingway possessed a passion for wealthy women, and Pauline was no exception. She had a glamorous job, a huge trust fund and countless more suitable admirers.

As Hemingway became more successful, the couple took jaunts to Europe, Africa, Havana and Wyoming. In 1931, Pauline’s uncle bought a home for the couple in Key West.

The couple had two sons, Patrick and Gregory. Patrick, 70, now lives in Bozeman, Mont., and Gregory, 67, resides in Miami. Hawkins has invited both, along with Jack Hemingway, to the July 4 dedication ceremony.

Although Hemingway and Pauline lived in Key West, the couple often traveled to Piggott to visit Pauline’s family. Hemingway enjoyed the Arkansas countryside and often hunted pheasant. Letters from Hemingway to the Pfeiffers reflect his interest in their rural lifestyle. He also wrote letters to Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound from Piggott.

“Pauline was his muse,” said Hawkins, who is working on a book about Pauline and Hemingway. “He wrote eight books and numerous short stories while they were together.”

In 1932, Virginia Pfeiffer, Pauline’s bohemian sister, suggested converting the backyard barn into a studio for Hemingway so he could write in peace. One morning, though, the barn caught fire when Hemingway forgot to damp down the stove. As manuscripts were tossed out, Hemingway fumed. He told off, or as legend has it, probably cursed at, a young servant who lit the fire.

“Paul Pfeiffer forced Hemingway to apologize to the boy,” said Hawkins.

Pauline remained in love with Hemingway all her life and sacrificed herself, her writing and her sons to be with him.

Hemingway often tired of his muses, and in 1936, war correspondent Martha Gellhorn caught his eye. He separated from Pauline and divorced her in 1940.

Pauline stayed in the Key West home and opened a designer fabric, upholstery and gift business known as the Carolina Shop.

On Oct. 21, 1951, a year after her mother’s death and seven years after her father died, Pauline died of a brain hemorrhage while visiting her sister in Hollywood. She is buried in an unmarked grave in the Hollywood Memorial Cemetery.

The restoration

In 1997, Pauline Hemingway crossed Hawkins’s thoughts while she worked on the designation of Crowley’s Ridge Parkway as a national scenic byway.

“I told a photographer who was shooting along the byway to see what he could find out about the Pfeiffer House. He came back and told me it was for sale,” recalled Hawkins. She drove to Piggott on Thanksgiving 1996 to look at the house, which had been bought in 1950 by Tom and Beatrice Janes and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. Its listing on the historic register means it was in good shape when Arkansas State began its Hemingway restoration.

Suddenly a woman with a mission, Hawkins worked furiously to acquire the house. In February 1997, the Arkansas General Assembly appropriated $135,000 to purchase the property. A month later, Sherland and Barbara Hamilton of Rector, who own Crockett Oil Co., offered a $200,000 restoration “challenge grant.”

By April, ASU had acquired the property, and Claudia Shannon began gathering clues about the house.

“When we began the restoration, we had to search out every bit of information because it had been nearly 50 years since a member of the Pfeiffer family lived in the house,” said Shannon. “There were no family photos, and the only remaining Pfeiffer relative we knew of was in her 90s.”

Taking oral histories about the Pfeiffers and their house from former housekeepers, Shannon began piecing together the jigsaw puzzle and reconstructing the furnishings and colors.

It wasn’t until Shannon located Beatrice Janes, now in her 90s and living in North Carolina, that the big pieces fell into place. Last year, Shannon and her husband, Howard, visited Janes, who had a role in “A Face in the Crowd.”

Janes loaned the project some of the Pfeiffers’ furniture and possessions, including a piano Janes’s son owned, that she acquired when she bought the house. Through the years, Piggott residents have collected furnishings from the Pfeiffer house at estate and junk sales. Now the town is giving it all back.

“People have given or sold us all sorts of stuff from all over the country,” said Shannon. “We have a lot of the original furnishings. The only thing lacking is (one of) the quilts that Mr. Pfeiffer bought during the Depression. No one has mentioned one of those to us.”

ASU hopes the historic house will be an educational resource, linking it with other Hemingway conferences and lectures, much the way the University of Mississippi links to its Faulkner connection. While Hawkins and Shannon realize Hemingway didn’t spend his entire life in Piggott, they hope Hemingway hounds will want to see where Hemingway and one of his muses spent time.

“This is an era in time that hasn’t been explored as history because it is so recent,” said Shannon. “But the 1930s was a fascinating period, and Hemingway was a fascinating man. Those two combined in a town that is rich in lore to create a rich asset for this area.”

[This story was originally published on May 23, 1999 in the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Gregory Hemingway died in 2001 at age 69.]

Written by suziparker1313

July 21, 2011 at 11:02 pm

Posted in Arkansas, The South

‘True Grit’ Then and Now: Political Eye Patches and a Girl Named Mattie Ross

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“True Grit” is legendary in my neck of the woods.
Before Bill Clinton or Mike Huckabee, there was “True Grit,” a 1968 western novel about Arkansas by an Arkansan named Charles Portis.
Portis, now 77, worked as newspaper reporter but abandoned the deadline life to become a novelist. He struck gold with “True Grit,” his most successful novel about Mattie Ross, a feisty and fearless 14-year-old, who sets out to avenge her father’s death in Oklahoma’s Indian Territory.
A year after the book was published, John Wayne starred in the movie adaption and won an Academy Award — his only one — for his portrayal of legendary U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn.

true grit. jeff bridgesPortis
, a recluse who lives in Little Rock and shies away from media, is about to reach a new generation. On Wednesday, Ethan and Joel Coen’s remake of “True Grit” premieres with Jeff Bridges in the Cogburn role, Matt Damon as Le Beouf, a Texas Ranger, and, as Mattie, teen newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, who was chosen from 15,000 girls.
Portis, who has been called a modern-day Mark Twain, can only be happy. The Coen brothers’ $35 million remake is a much richer, smarter and truer adaption of Portis’ novel, with Steinfeld’s Mattie stealing the show.
The story takes place in 1880 in Fort Smith, Ark., a town near the Oklahoma border that shares more history with the Wild West than the Old South. Mattie, a ferocious protagonist, pairs up with Le Beouf and drunken bounty hunter Cogburn to search for her father’s murderer, Tom Chaney.
Wayne’s portrayal of Cogburn, a Civil War veteran who lost his eye and never “knew a dry day in his life,” wasn’t as gruff or edgy as Bridges’ rebooted version, which is similar to Portis’ vision of the character. Still, Wayne was The Duke and with that comes loyalty and even political controversy.
This past summer, the blog “American Thinker” wrote that Wayne, a vocal conservative, may be rolling in his grave over the remake. That’s because the Coens’ cast is made up of liberals (Bridges, Damon, and Josh Brolin, who plays Chaney) who support President Obama.

The blogger wrote, “If this film should achieve the level of success that many are predicting it will, it could open the door to other revisionist remakes. Imagine if you will Matt Damon starring in ‘Sergeant York,’ Sean Penn and George Clooney in ‘Big Jim McLain‘ or Jose [sic] Brolin playing George Gipp in ‘Knute Rockne, All-American.’ ”
A conspiracy also brews around Cogburn’s eye patch.
Wayne wore a patch over his left eye, which allowed him to view the world through his right one. That made sense, according to “American Thinker,” because of Wayne’s politics. Bridges, however, wears his patch over his right eye, allegedly allowing him to see the world . . . well, differently.
Bridges is aware of the patch brouhaha. When a Quincy, Mass., newspaper asked him about it, the Oscar-winning actor joked, “I’m a commie.” But then he simply explained, “I tried it on the right eye, and it felt good. But on the left eye, not so good.”
Wayne, of course, stirred the political waters back in his day. He was a conservative Republican who helped to create the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, and was elected its president in 1947. He was also avidly anti-communist and supported the House Un-American Activities Committee. His movies often reflected his beliefs, including 1952’s “Big Jim McLain,” about two investigators hunting down communists, and “The Green Berets,” a 1968 film in support of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, released when public outcry over the war was rising.
In 1968, Republicans lobbied for Wayne to run for national office, but he said no, thanks. He did support Ronald Reagan in his California gubernatorial runs in 1966 and 1970.
Wayne’s “True Grit” was produced at the height of the Vietnam War and can be viewed through a filter of 1960s radical politics and Wayne’s right-wing views. Even the Academy Award he won was tainted with controversy, and some observers still claim that Wayne didn’t deserve the award — it was simply a token Oscar for a Hollywood veteran.
The Golden Globes recently shunned the remake, but many critics believe it will earn Academy Award nominations.
As for Bridges and Damon and Brolin, they may support Democrats, but moviegoers will have a hard time finding any 21st century politics or political code words in the movie, except maybe a few from the Bible. Instead, the Coens stay strictly in the gun-slinging Arkansas of the 1800s, with Mattie Ross leading the charge with wit and a gun bigger than she is.
And for a little over two hours, that’s not a bad place to be.

Musical Portrait of a President: Bill Clinton’s Young Life Inspires Opera

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Bill Clinton’s life has already been a soap opera.

Enter Bonnie Montgomery, a native Arkansan who has composed “Billy Blythe,” an opera in the traditional vein and based on the life of a teenage Clinton. The opera explores a summer day in 1959 in Hot Springs, Ark., with a young Clinton who lives with his colorful mother, Virginia, and his abusive stepfather, Roger Clinton.

Montgomery, 31, composed the music for the 90 minute opera with her long-time college friend, Brittany Barber, who wrote the lyrics. Four scenes of the opera recently debuted in the grand historic ballroom of Little Rock’s Women’s City Club.

Montgomery named the opera for the original last name of Clinton and his biological father, Bill Blythe, who died three months before the future president was born in 1946. Clinton went by the name until he was a teenager when he legally took his stepfather’s surname, although Roger Clinton never adopted him.

President Clinton and his mother, Virginia KelleyFour years ago, Montgomery, a professional musician, was inspired to write the opera while reading Clinton’s autobiography, “My Life.” Chapter Six moved her toward the piano.

In that chapter, Clinton begins: “I don’t know how Mother handled it all as well as she did. Every morning no matter what had happened the night before, she got up and put her game face on. And what a face it was. From the time she came back home from New Orleans, when I could get up early enough, I loved sitting on the floor of the bathroom and watching her put makeup on that beautiful face.”

Montgomery says that passage set her imagination on fire.

“It appeared to me on the stage with the lights, the set, the whole thing,” Montgomery says. “His life’s story is full of action and exaggerated Southern characters. It’s an amazing story that a man can come from where he came from and become the president. His personality is mythical and where he came from (Hot Springs) provides the perfect mythical backdrop.”

During the 1950s when Clinton lived in Hot Springs, the town, known internationally for its heated natural spring water, was a gambling haven for the rich and famous. Virginia didn’t shy away from gambling and she frequently visited the swanky nightclubs and local race track.

Virginia fortifies the opera as the central character in Clinton’s life. She molded her son – for better or worse – into the man he became, says Montgomery, who studied Virginia Clinton Kelley’s 1994 book, “Leading With My Heart” as she wrote the opera’s music.

Four scenes of the opera featured Virginia and Roger singing about their life in New Orleans in between morning kisses on a sofa. Another scene features the young Clinton, outside of a movie theater in downtown Hot Springs, singing about Gary Cooper’s “High Noon,” one of Clinton’s all-time favorite movies. Clinton also battles his stepfather to protect his mother in one high-octane scene near the opera’s end.

But the highlight of the opera is “Virginia’s Aria” when Virginia sings a lamented love note about Clinton’s father, Bill. In that song, Virginia compares Clinton to his biological father and highlights all the positives about her late husband. She sings as she puts on make-up, celebrating the benefits of lipstick and powder in attracting a man and holding back the cruelty of age.

Bill Clinton is also a natural subject for a native Arkansan like Montgomery.

Nearly every Arkansan of a certain age has a story to tell about him, and Montgomery is no different. She was in junior high school when Clinton first ran for president. She recalls putting a bumper sticker across her jeans to show her support of Clinton. “The first time I saw him was when I was a pee-wee cheerleader,” Montgomery says. “I was in the White County Fair parade on a float and he came to the parade. I just really remember he was really tall, friendly and had big hands.”

When she ran into Clinton last year in a hotel lobby in Little Rock., she told him about the project and he wished her luck. And at a Democratic event during the midterm campaign season, Montgomery presented him with a packet about the opera. So far, he hasn’t commented on it.

Montgomery says Clinton’s story is classically Southern and one that people could relate to even if Clinton had not been president. But her goal was to show some of the trials and tribulations that he battled as a young man. Those, she said, helped him to achieve the American dream.

Montgomery used her expertise in American art song and folk music to develop the opera. She wanted it to highlight the traditional characteristics of opera, with a Southern twist.

“Arkansas is so rich in musical heritage with Johnny Cash and the blues that it just made sense to focus on some of the rich music, too,” she says.

Montgomery, who also fronts a country and western band called Montgomery Trucking, assembled a cast from Arkansas, Tennessee, and Colorado. She is looking for an opera house to workshop the entire production.

Following the first performance, Montgomery and Barber hosted an after party at a local bar, ironically called The White Water Tavern (no connection to Clinton’s 1990s era Whitewater land scandals). There, the cast ramped up the opera to a racier version with Montgomery playing the role of Virginia — instead of mezzo-soprano Kelley Ponder who performed in the evening’s first performance.

Similar to the way Clinton took politics to a new generation via MTV back in 1992, Montgomery wants to enlighten a younger generation about opera, which has engaged her since high school. She says that many people have the wrong impression about the musical form. It’s not just boring and stuffy with big voices singing in Italian, Montgomery stresses.

“I want to take opera to a different crowd,” she says. “It would be great if this production could tour like a rock band and reach people who may never hear an opera. People could learn about opera and Bill Clinton at the same time.”

Written by suziparker1313

March 8, 2011 at 10:52 pm

Bill Clinton’s Arkansas: A Red State He Would Not Recognize

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Arkansas, you run deep in me.

That’s a line from the state song. But this week, red ran deep in this Blue Dog state that is just this side of wacky. No doubt, Bill Clinton has to be crying somewhere. His home state slipped completely down the rabbit hole.

On Tuesday night, Democrats were hyperventilating as the party lost several state offices along with two congressional seats, seven state senate seats and 16 state house seats. Both houses of the state legislature remain Democratic, but some Democrats are worried that a few conservative colleagues might flip Republican in exchange for committee chairs once the session starts in January. If that happens, Republicans would be the majority for the first time since the Reconstruction Era.

For decades, Republicans were tucked away in northwest Arkansas near the Oklahoma and Missouri borders. Occasionally, one of the rascals would pop up in central Arkansas like in the 1980 gubernatorial race when the late businessman Frank White challenged one-term governor Clinton and won. Mike Huckabee succeeded in the 1990s, but the state remained a conservative shade of blue for the most part. This week the map changed to neon red, flashing a warning to Democrats as they regroup for 2012.

It was no surprise that Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln lost to her GOP challenger, Rep. John Boozman. But the state that gave the country its first elected female senator — Hattie Caraway — in 1938 now has no female representation in Washington. In fact, the state only has Martha Shoffner as its treasurer with a handful of women winning legislative seats. But Lincoln’s race was predictable compared to many others.

In Hot Springs, where Clinton graduated from high school, voters chose a dead Republican over a living, breathing Democrat in a state house race. Keith Crass died last week from a heart attack, but that didn’t stop voters from checking the box for him. Now, a special election will be called.

In another county near Little Rock, a Republican who struggled with a hot check history and an outstanding tax lien during his campaign defeated the longtime Democratic prosecuting attorney whose office prosecuted the hot check cases.

Usually Arkansas’ secretary of state races are a boring blowout for Democrats. Even when former first lady Janet Huckabee was the GOP nominee in 2002, few fireworks ignited. This year, the race pitted two candidates with popular, famous names against each other. Republican Mark Martin, a businessman, shared his name with a famous Arkansas race car driver. Democrat Pat O’Brien, a well-known and popular county clerk in Little Rock, was seldom confused with the New Orleans bar with the same name. Martin upset O’Brien in a race that lasted long after the chips had become stale at their watch parties.

Amazingly, one of the most popular governors in the country, Democrat Mike Beebe, held on to his seat by a wide margin. But in another stunner, Mark Darr, a political novice who owns a pizza parlor, upset longtime legislator Shane Broadway to become lieutenant governor. Democrats remember that is the seat from which Huckabee began his political career back in 1993 and moved up when Gov. Jim Guy Tucker resigned in the wake of Clinton’s Whitewater scandals.

Blue Dog Rep. Mike Ross will now be the sole Democrat in the state’s congressional delegation. He ran against Beth Anne Rankin, a former Miss Arkansas (1994) and Huckabee staffer who channeled Sarah Palin by upsweeping her red hair, donning rimless glasses and posing with a big gun. The makeover didn’t work, but Rankin will no doubt resurface again in Arkansas politics.

At least a few shining moments exist in Clintonland this week. Voters chose to allow two dry counties to sell alcohol. Depressed Dems can now find a new watering hole or two to visit. One of the counties also happens to be home to one of the biggest Ku Klux Klan organizations in America.

Then there’s the on-going Clint McCance saga. Most of the state’s politicians didn’t say much about the now ex-school board member’s gay tirade on Facebook. But leave it to a popular gay Star Trek actor, George Takei (Sulu in the original TV series), to say what politicians wouldn’t. In a viral video, he takes McCance down a peg or three. Arkansas runs deep in Takei, too. During World War II, he and his family stayed in a Japanese internment camp in south Arkansas.
Something is now brewing in this state that Takei briefly called home in the 1940s. It’s now a place where some conservative Democrats will use God, guns and gays to take out a liberal Democrat. That was ammunition once reserved for the right-wing contingent from northwest Arkansas. In past years, independent voters usually trend Democratic. They didn’t in this election. Bill Clinton also once had an influence. Not so this year. Scholars say that the Democratic Party could come back stronger in the next few election cycles. Then again, red runs deep here now.

Written by suziparker1313

March 8, 2011 at 10:33 pm

West Memphis Three Case: Court Orders New Evidentiary Hearings

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After 17 years of asking, the West Memphis Three are finally getting another day in court.

On Thursday, the Arkansas Supreme Court ordered a judge to consider whether newly analyzed DNA evidence might exonerate the three men convicted in the 1993 murders of three West Memphis Cub Scouts. The justices also said a lower court must examine claims of juror misconduct, which opens the door for defense attorneys to bring in all evidence not presented in the original trials. The court voted unanimously for new hearings.

Damien Echols sits on death row for the murders of the three children. Jason Baldwin and Jesse Misskelley Jr. received life sentences.

At the time of the murders, there was speculation that the case was an occult killing. Echols was singled out because he wore black clothes, listened to heavy metal and read horror novels, although he did not know the three boys. He and Baldwin and Misskelley were accused of murder, sexual mutilation and cutting and beating the victims. The evidence and the facts of the crime never matched. All three of the accused were teenagers when they were convicted.

Damien Echols, West Memphis ThreeThe WM3 case has generated major netroots activism, and drawn celebrity support from Johnny Depp, singer Patti Smith, Dixie Chick Natalie Maines and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, among others. They staged a concert in August to draw attention to the case, especially in Arkansas, where it had gotten very little attention until recently. HBO has produced two documentaries and is currently filming a third.

The court also pointed out Thursday that Circuit Judge David Burnett erred repeatedly in the case, including dismissing requests to consider DNA and other exculpatory evidence without a hearing. Burnett has been the focus of activists’ campaigns because of his pro-prosecution stances. He will not hear the new case because he was recently elected to the state legislature. Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has also fought against a new hearing. 

McDaniel said he respected the court’s ruling but added that his office “intends to fulfill its constitutional responsibility to defend the jury verdicts in this case.”

When the state Supreme Court heard oral arguments in late September, activists from around the world for Free the WM3 and Arkansas Take Action filled the chamber.

Over the years, Echols has petitioned higher courts numerous times, including the U.S. Supreme Court, but has been denied a new hearing.

Written by suziparker1313

March 8, 2011 at 10:30 pm

John Boozman, Blanche Lincoln and Razorback Football: Politics in Hog Country

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Razorback fever is running fierce among Arkansas’ politicians.
It’s also creating a fracas in Hog Country as candidates try to out spirit their rivals and the University of Arkansas tries to keep track of possible trademark infringement.
Republican Senate candidate Rep. John Boozman’s initial Razorback-heavy TV campaign ad ignited a mini-controversy this week as the University of Arkansas prepares to play University of Louisiana-Monroe Saturday.

Boozman, who is challenging Democratic incumbent Blanche Lincoln, tweaked the ad Wednesday. It still has a football motif but not copyrighted images. The move came after university officials complained that the original could be construed as an endorsement and possibly in violation of copyright.

From 1969 to 1973, Boozman played football for the Razorbacks. His first ad of the general election season featured him standing in front of Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville. A helmet with the Razorback hog logo was also in the ad along with other football memorabilia.

In a statement, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Boozman’s campaign manager said, “Out of respect for the University of Arkansas, our campaign voluntarily replaced our latest TV ad with one that did not contain any images or logos that might give the perception the University was favoring one candidate over another. Obviously, our campaign does not want to create a controversy for an institution that we have such a deep admiration for, so we amended the opening images of the ad, yet maintained the Congressman’s conservative message. The most important thing in this ad is not the pictures, but the principles that John Boozman will fight for in the Senate.”

But on Thursday, Republicans were whispering that the ad was changed after university donors and friends of Lincoln put pressure on the university.
“Untrue,” said Steve Voorhies, University of Arkansas spokesman.
Voorhies did acknowledge that “someone from the Lincoln campaign or a Lincoln supporter” called the university to ask about it. He said that the phone call came after the university had already started an investigation into the ad.
Arkansas doesn’t have a professional sports team, and the Razorbacks are a beloved institution in the state. In 1994, Bill Clinton was featured on the cover of “Sports Illustrated” wearing Razorback gear and holding a basketball in front of the White house.
Last weekend, at the Razorbacks’ season opener in Fayetteville, Lincoln hired a plane to fly over the stadium with a banner supporting the team’s quarterback. It said, “Blanche says Ryan Mallett for the Heisman ballot.”
Voorhies said the university cannot control air space above the stadium.
Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, who is seeking re-election against Republican businessman Jim Keet, agreed Thursday to take down pictures on his campaign Facebook page after the university contacted the campaign. The pictures showed the Arkansas Razorback mascot, Sue E, holding a Beebe campaign sticker and a male cheerleader with the same sticker.
According to university rules: “It is a policy of the UA spirit groups that businesses, political campaigns, etc. may not be endorsed (directly or indirectly) while students are in uniform, and this has been reinforced with students. Photos taken of current squad members should not be taken as an endorsement by the University or its athletics program.”
Some candidates have used the Razorback logo in the past. In 1980, Richard Adkisson, a candidate for Supreme Court chief justice, ran an advertisement proclaiming his endorsement by 27 former Razorback football lettermen. He also used the Razorback logo.
As part of a long-standing tradition, the team splits games between its home campus in Fayetteville and a stadium in the heart of Little Rock, where Saturday’s game will be played. Candidates have been promoting their tailgate parties all week.
Lincoln’s Facebook page says the candidate and her husband, Steve, are hosting a tailgate party “when the Razorbacks come to War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock this Saturday, September 11 to beat the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks. We’ll be serving up hot dogs, hamburgers, all the fixins and ice cold drinks. There will be enough for everyone so make sure you bring your friends…and family.” She also has an RSVP form on her website for the tailgate party that says “Hogs Fan for Blanche.”
Republican congressional candidate Tim Griffin has also invited supporters to “Hog-a-palooza” for hot dogs and burgers on Saturday. Campaigns can tailgate, according to War Memorial Stadium rules, as long as they purchase a space.

Late Thursday, Lincoln’s campaign posted a picture of a friend of Lincoln’s and the friend’s daughter at last week’s Razorback game. The football field is in the background. Both are wearing Razorback gear, face tattoos of the Razorback, and Lincoln campaign stickers.

Republicans called a foul: “Blanche needs to realize that just like in football, you have to play by the rules,” said Alice Stewart, senior communications adviser for the Republican Party of Arkansas. The Lincoln campaign said that the photo submitted by a supporter does not violate any rules.

David Johnson, CEO of Strategic Vision in Atlanta and a Republican consultant, said using sports team logos in political messaging is tricky.

“An unwritten rule in politics has been the careful use of college logos,” Johnson said. “Head coaches and even college players have made endorsements in the past but never in uniform or using the team logos or mascots. The better way to do it is to have a head coach, former player, or famous alumni to endorse you but not to use the logo.”

Written by suziparker1313

March 8, 2011 at 9:10 pm