Opinion

OPINION | GREG HARTON: It’s time to shift into election season mode to evaluate candidates

For the politically active folks in Arkansas, last week probably felt a little like Christmas.

Last Monday, the filing period for the 2024 party primaries and nonpartisan judicial offices opened. The filing period ends Tuesday.

Arkansans will then know what their primary choices look like for legislative races, quorum courts and other offices, as well in the nonpartisan contests for many judgeships.

I always start these election cycles reminding myself that good campaigners don't necessarily turn into good officeholders. Likewise, the most exciting candidates don't always have the skills one might want in a public servant.

Asa Hutchinson, the former governor now running for president (perhaps on fumes), would make an excellent chief executive of the United States, compared to much of the Republican slate and the current occupant of the Oval Office. But he's a serious leader in a world that too often prefers Bozos like Vivek Ramaswamy, Marjorie Taylor Green, Lauren Boebert, George Santos or Matt Gaetz. He's not a bad campaigner, but he's more substance than flash. Horribly for our country, that's not what people are shopping for.

Getting elected is far different from good governing.

This is sometimes lost on people who run successful first-time campaigns. They mistakenly believe their election night success is a resounding stamp of approval for whatever they want to do in whatever way they want to do it.

A healthier response is to say "OK, now I've got to go prove myself to the people I represent." Note that I didn't say "the people who voted for me."

Often, though, getting elected amplifies candidates' egos when all they've done is get a majority of votes. Getting elected can be a function of name recognition, party designation or how much campaign cash one has as much as a candidate's capacity to do the job.

Voters also choose to vote "against" a candidate more than "for" someone. I think there's some of that going on in Arkansas, where conservative voters immediately write off non-Republicans as ineligible for their votes, even when a Democrat or independent might have better governing skills.

Governing skills, in my estimation, involve an ability to seek out the best ideas, regardless of who has them. This myopic fixation on party loyalties doesn't always serve the interests of the state of Arkansas or, even more significantly, the nation.

Arkansas is approaching the end of Gov. Sarah Sanders' first year in office. It's been tumultuous at times, but she's also achieved much of her legislative agenda. She has sadly chosen to maintain a combative, bunker mentality, learned I suppose from her mentor Donald Trump, whom she just endorsed for president.

Having never held public office, she's shown some first-term arrogance, perhaps understandable from someone who earned 63% of the vote. She's never fully transitioned out of campaign mode and into governing.

Although she likes to talk about what she plans to do in eight years as governor, I'll not presume what she or the voters will be focused on in 2026. I am more interested in what kind of governor she'll be in year three of her first term than in year one. It will show whether she has the capacity to learn on the job, to shelve the hubris and connect with Arkansans in the personable ways that Asa Hutchinson, Mike Beebe, Mike Huckabee, Bill Clinton, David Pryor, Dale Bumpers and even Orval Faubus did.

She should find certifiably conservative Arkansans capable of giving practical and pragmatic advice and ditch the D.C.-style politics (and staff).

Her D.C.-oriented people are latched on to her perceived coattails, but it's sadly not hard to imagine them sitting around maligning the state they've been force to move to for their political ambitions.

In any case, get ready, Arkansans. Election season is back, whether you want it or not.

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