Opinion

OPINION | GARY SMITH: In state’s political leadership, dull would be welcome

In politics, Arkansas could stand to be more tame

First, I need to establish that I'm not a native Arkansan, at least not in the sense that I was born here.

That distinction, if it is one, goes to Florida. But in all fairness, we were living on an Air Force base and we moved soon thereafter, so it's unlikely whatever it is that causes Floridians to be, you know, Floridians didn't have time to take. Or at least that's my hope.

As far as my Arkansas bona fides, we moved to central Arkansas when I was in junior high and I graduated from high school there. And while I left the state to go to college, I came right back and have been here ever since.

I will qualify my return by pointing out that all the time I've been back has been spent so close to the border that I could likely escape at any point if I wanted to. However, given the reality of conditions in Oklahoma, it's conjecture whether I'd be escaping to anything that would be an improvement over what's going on here in Arkansas.

It's worth noting that we in the far northwest corner of the state tend to view the rest of Arkansas with either a somewhat jaundiced eye or a great deal of incredulity. Sometimes both. And we are not at all shy about communicating both of those to anyone and everyone who asks us where we're from.

As in, "We're from Arkansas, but Northwest Arkansas, so, it's different."

Different from what, we decline to say. But then, some things don't really have to be said.

However, loath as we might be to admit it, we are all one big happy family here in the Land of Opportunity. And by "family" I mean us and the cousins you don't want to sit next to at Thanksgiving who always bring covered dishes involving vegetables and miniature marshmallows. OK, the one that has sweet potatoes in it is actually pretty good, but sweet potatoes aren't really vegetables, are they?

Wherever in the state we're from and however we feel about miniature marshmallows, we all have a shared history of politicians doing things that, well, frankly, embarrass us.

Worth noting is that a significant portion of our state both owns and has worn in public a plastic hat shaped like a hog, so the bar on embarrassing us is pretty high.

But in a past that predates many of us we had a governor, Orval Faubus, so dead set on preventing integration that the 101st Airborne, a military unit famous for keeping the Belgian city of Bastogne from the Nazis, had to be sent to Little Rock to make sure nine young people could go to high school.

And we had a Congressman, Wilbur D. Mills, who knew and likely impacted the U.S. Tax Code more than anymore but who didn't know how to keep an exotic dancer from exiting his car and jumping into Washington D.C.'s Tidal Basin.

And we had Bill Clinton, who, when it comes to state pride, is the double-edged sword against which all other double-edged swords could be measured. And found wanting. Perhaps best if we all just linger on the "President of the United States" part.

There have been others, but the latest iteration of less-than-positive light, at least one that has caught the eye of the national media, involves a decision made by our governor to buy a very expense lectern from a company that doesn't actually make lecterns, expensive or otherwise. Who knew being a lectern broker was a thing?

Whether this is simply a bookkeeping oopsie or something more sinister appears to very much be in the eye of the beholder and not at all my point here.

Which is that I love my adopted state, but at least when it comes to our politicians, I'd really appreciate it if we could aspire to be less colorful. Less like Texas and more like, say, Nebraska. You never hear about troops, exotic dancers or odd furniture purchases in Nebraska.

Periodically, I have to check and make sure Nebraska is still a state. Yep, it is.

Look, I realize "bland" isn't a life goal for a lot of people. But with our history, could our elected leaders at least give it a try?

And if you're a politician considering doing something that could potentially embarrass the state, be forewarned. Given that same history, it's going to take more than overpriced podiums.