If you still consider yourself an “Arkansas Conservative Democrat” you need to know that the Democrat Party left you behind a long time ago. If you are a Democratic candidate for the legislature and you think of yourself as conservative, be prepared to be ostracized by your Democratic caucus.
Having been an employee of the Arkansas legislature for over 30 years, I observed a strong conservative wing of the Democrat Party dwindle away. In the Eighty-eighth General Assembly (2011-2012) when Democrats still held the majority of the House of Representatives, two Democrat legislators told me of their experience of being chewed out and intimidated by Democrat leadership for failing to follow the liberal agenda. One House member later left the Democrat Party and the other said, “I told them I will be a good little boy.”
LIBERAL BLOCK VOTING 2013
I was told, “Conduit for Action works with conservatives regardless of party labels.” So I began reviewing voting records of Democrat state legislators to identify any remaining conservatives. My task would have been easier if they had asked me to find the Ivory Billed Woodpecker.
Here are examples of the liberal Democrat block voting in the 2013 Regular Session.
LIBERALS USE CONSERVATIVE DISGUISE
I still hear people, primarily those far from Little Rock, say “My legislator is a Conservative Democrat.” They are always surprised when I tell them how their Democrat legislator actually voted. A number of Democrats still remember the long history of conservative Democrats in Arkansas and just assume it must still be that way. Liberal Democrats continue to encourage this misconception by emphasizing to voters, “I balanced the budget, cut taxes, and I voted for gun rights.” This doesn’t mean as much as you might think. The first two claims can be made by the all liberal legislators and the third can be made by all but a handful of extreme liberals.
- The budget is always balanced, no matter what, thanks to the Revenue Stabilization Act of 1973. Even the biggest tax and spenders can claim a balanced budget because the Act reduces the budget if revenues go down.
- Cutting taxes doesn’t tell you much unless they also tell you about the taxes they voted for, and what new or expanded programs they voted for that keep our taxes from going down enough to compete with surrounding states. They also fail to tell you that state expenditures are going up every year.
- As for gun rights, thanks to the voters, in most legislative districts, it is political suicide to oppose gun rights.
Some liberals still claim to be pro-life even though they voted against pro-life bills or disappeared when the vote came up. (The fallacy of this argument is addressed later in this article.)
CONSERVATIVE DEMOCRATS OF THE 1980’S AND 1990’S.
Many legislators I worked with in the 1980’s and into the 1990’s were Conservative Democrats. Conservative social issues were important as the legislature passed laws to restrict abortion and, despite expected litigation, mandated the teaching of creation science in schools. They tried to restore prayer in schools, to stop obscenity and profanity, and to restore respect for our flag.
State programs grew during this period, but there were legislators who watched every nickel like a hawk. The legislature even tried to tell the independent agency, the Game and Fish Commission to stop wasting money on a publication.
In 1980, the Democrat Party was referred to as a “big tent party” meaning it had room for everyone, conservative and liberal. Over the decades liberal influence shoved conservative Democrats out of the “big tent” and conservatives began making their way to the only conservative political party in the state, the Republican Party.
Conservative Democrats were adamant about distinguishing themselves from what they called the liberal national Democrat Party. In the mid-1980’s a Democrat State Representative from south Arkansas showed me his campaign material. I asked, “Why did you include the words ‘Arkansas Democrat’ since everyone knows you are from Arkansas.” He replied, “Because, I need to show that I am not one of those crazy, liberals you see at the national convention.” In his view and in the view of many others at the time “Arkansas Democrat” meant “conservative.”
Although Arkansas conservatives wanted to distinguish themselves from the Democratic National Committee, they still needed to cooperate with national Democrats. The influence of the Democrat National Committee took its toll over the decades
DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE
Obviously, a conservative does not fit in with the national Democratic Party. The 2012 Democrat National Convention booed when the word “God” was put back in the platform. The Democrat platform supports gun control and strongly supports abortion.
TERM LIMITS AND THE TURN TO THE LEFT
Arkansas Democrats were becoming more liberal, but the change was accelerated by voter initiated Term Limits. Term-limits meant that many conservative Democrats who had served in the legislature for 20, 30 and even 40 years were rapidly replaced by Democrats who more and more resembled the national party. This was counterbalanced by conservatives being elected as Republicans.
WHAT ABOUT THE LOCAL LEVEL
People used to say, “Those national Democrats are liberal but Arkansas Democrats are conservative.” Will they now say, “Those Democrats in Little Rock are liberal but my city and county officials are conservative Democrats”? No, that is not going to fly either. Many of the liberal Democrats in the Arkansas legislature got their start as city, county or school district officials.
Looking at the 2013 Regular Session of the Arkansas General Assembly it is clear that “Conservative Democrat” has become an oxymoron in Arkansas.
RIP – Conservative Arkansas Democrat.
NOTES CONCERNING THE CHART ON LIBERAL BLOCK VOTING 2013
- Private Option and Republican Votes
You may point out that the two bills on Obamacare Private Option had Republican lead sponsors and several Republican legislators voted for the bills. The myth is that the Private Option is a Republican alternative to Obamacare Medicaid Expansion. First, it is Medicaid Expansion that is part of Obamacare. The federal government says Arkansas is a Medicaid Expansion state and our governor even admits it. Second, the draft of Obamacare Private Option given to legislators by our Democrat governor and legislators had to replace Democrat Senator Paul Bookout as lead sponsor of the Senate bill to make it look like a Republican initiative. No Democrats opposed the two Obamacare Private Option bills, however, 75% of the House Republican Caucus refused to vote for the bills on passage by the House. Of the Republicans House members who voted for the Obamacare Private Option there was Speaker of the House Davy Carter (elected speaker by all 48 Democrats and only a handful or less of Republicans) and the other Republicans who voted yes had all been appointed by Carter to one or more chairmanships or vice-chairmanships. If there were still conservative Democrats in the legislature, wouldn’t you expect some to go against Obamacare, considering its unpopularity in Arkansas?
- Some of the bills are being challenged in court
You may rightly point out that the list includes bills that are being challenged in courts. First, it is not unusual for legislative Acts to be challenged whether it concerns funding a multi-purpose civic center, grandparent visitation, or special border city tax treatment. Second, it has not been unusual for the General Assembly to stick to their guns despite warnings of potential nullification. On multiple occasions the General Assembly sent a message to the Arkansas Supreme Court by attempting to impose rules of procedure on the courts. Sometimes it worked as a catalyst for the Supreme Court to make rules changes. It was a Democrat controlled legislature that passed the Creation Science Law in 1981. Although warnings were given about likely litigation, conservative Democrats thought inclusion of creation science was important enough to push forward and pass the legislation.
- Democrats Who Voted for Gun Rights?
In most of Arkansas it is political suicide to vote against gun rights. Gun rights is certainly the kind of legislation that even liberal legislators will support, especially when they know support will be overwhelming. Please note – the few votes against gun rights bills were all Democrats.
- The Veto Override to Adopt Pro-Life Bills
The votes to override the Governor’s veto of the two pro-life bills illustrate the point of how the Democrat Party has changed from a conservative pro-life party to a liberal party. Several Democrats who had voted for the pro-life bills when initially passed by the House, failed to support the bills when the House overrode the Governor’s veto. From the empty seats, either a lot of Democrats had a bad lunch on two different days or they walked out of the chamber in order not to be seen by their constituents. Some signed in at the beginning of the day, failed to vote on the bills and did not cast a vote all day.
The House overrode the veto of HB1027 on February 27, 2013, and only 2 Democrats failed to answer the role that day. The House overrode the veto of SB134 on March 6, 2013, and only 1 Democrat was recorded as absent that day. Even if they had all been absent, the House procedure called “Pairing” makes it easy for those who are absent to vote on important bills (like the two pro-life bills).
From comments made by Representative Randy Alexander (R) from the well of the House it appears that Democrats were under quite a bit of pressure not to override the veto by Democrat Governor Beebe. Alexander pointed out that HB1037 wasn’t just another vote; it was about principle.
Either a number of Democrats were willing to forgo their principles for party; or several initially voted for the pro-life bills because they thought the bill was going to pass anyway. You pick. Ducking out on the bills didn’t make their flip flop any less obvious.
“[Democrat James Mclean] said he didn’t vote to override Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe’s vetoes of the bills because “there were already more than enough votes to override the veto,” and he didn’t want to do anything that would damage his good relationship with the governor.” – Arkansas Democrat Gazette 09/23/2014
McLean’s excuse doesn’t fly. First he must have had eagle eyes because the override of HB1037 only passed with 2 votes to spare, and the vote tally wasn’t shown until the vote was over. When Mclean said he didn’t want to damage his relationship with the governor, he made the governor more important than protecting unborn children. Some have suggested that the vote shouldn’t be held against Democrats because they were under pressure by that mean ole governor. Really?
You might be tempted to defend Democrats who flipped by saying the Governor’s veto made them realize that the bills might be unconstitutional. Sorry, that argument doesn’t work. The Governor’s vetoes didn’t bring about a Democrat epiphany on the pro-life bills. Newspaper articles verify that the Governor’s opinions were known before the House voted “yes” the first time.[i]
The Democrat “no” votes and the AWOL Democrats demonstrate that the Democrats have changed from the previous strong pro-life stance of Democrats to a solidly liberal caucus.