OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Democrats find a heartbeat

When the ticket closed Tuesday for candidate filings, the state Democratic Party held a press briefing to announce its pulse.

It needn't be a strong pulse. It need only exist. When you are trying to rise from the dead, incrementalism is glorious.

What state Democratic officials called attention to is that they had produced 64 candidates for the 100-member state House of Representatives and seven candidates for 17 state Senate seats on the ballot next year. That's more than in a dozen years.

It invokes the prospect, if mild, of taking a shot at the Democratic goal, which is to reach a membership in each chamber of one-fourth plus one, meaning enough votes to block an appropriation bill.

Democrats need to get from a pitiable 18 to a less-pitiable 26 in the House, and from a pitiable six to a less-pitiable nine in the Senate.

With that, they could, if voting as a bloc, exercise a little Washington-style leverage, also sometimes called obstructionism, by holding appropriation bills hostage in exchange for something.

They won't get LEARNS repealed that way. But they might get money spent on needy people that wouldn't otherwise get spent. So long as they use their one muscle for righteousness, a little obstructionism ought to be forgiven.

Grant Tennille, the Democratic chair, put it a better way, which I paraphrase: The current party in power seems to have taken pleasure in throwing people off Medicaid. The people thrown off had no one of power defending them. Some were almost assuredly purged only because they didn't respond to mailings and are, in fact, fully eligible for vital aid for health care. Many are developmentally disabled. Eight more Democrats in the House and three more in the Senate would give them someone in the room.

Tennille said the election next year won't be about a lectern, though the infamous lectern is part of the broader issue he calls misspending.

I think it's broader still. It's what plagued the political youth of Bill Clinton in Arkansas. That was the perception of his arrogance, of his preoccupation with national political ambition, and a general sense that he was too big for his britches.

Arkansas voters historically have not taken kindly to politicians who use offices to exalt and advance themselves.

No one elected Gov. Sarah Sanders to lavish on herself a fancy lectern or get a law made keeping much of her public spending secret after she got found out anteing up $20,000 in eventually reimbursed state money for that lectern.

No one elected their Republican legislators to go to Little Rock and let her get away with that.

No one elected Sanders governor of Arkansas to campaign in the governor's race in Kentucky ... and lose.

I'll acknowledge the exception that Arkansas voters might have elected her to go to Florida and speak at a Donald Trump rally. Some of them, anyway. More still may in fact have voted for her to talk to them through Fox News.

But Democrats are no longer quite as hapless. In recent years, they've sought legislative offices on local and state messages that got overpowered when the state Republican Party put out mailings into their districts accusing them of being woke, liberal abortionists and gun-seizers.

When they tried to defend themselves, Republicans asked why they chose that scarlet "D," meaning Democrat and/or devil.

It's better to have a counterattack than a defensive whine about being lied about. Sanders is a ripe target for counterattack.

It may not bear a great deal of fruit, but it's why the Democratic energy level is up and the state Democratic ticket a longer list of names.

Meantime, mention should be made of the greater modern worry of Arkansas Republican officeholders. It's of being "primaried" from the right because they did something that wasn't Trumpy enough.

U.S. Rep. Steve Womack of Rogers, the veteran congressman in the 3rd District, has a primary opponent in state Sen. Sen. Clint Penzo of Springdale.

The charge against Womack is that he's gone swampy in D.C. aligning with the Kevin McCarthy leadership team and achieving positions of budget responsibility. And it will be that he betrayed conservatism by voting against right-wing extremist Jim Jordan for speaker.

Womack will probably survive. The speaker he eventually voted for, Mike Johnson, is as extreme as Jordan.

And there are a lot of mainstream Republicans in northwest Arkansas who value rather than disdain responsible conduct in positions of responsibility in Washington.

And Sanders has endorsed Womack, which surely still counts for something in a Republican primary, her bigness for her britches aside.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected]. Read his @johnbrummett feed on X, formerly Twitter.