HR Management & Compliance

Arkansas: Largest Shift in State Political History

by Don Eilbott, Jack, Nelson, Jones, Jiles & Gregory, P.A.

I fully realize that the story of election evening was the Republican victories in the House and Senate nationwide and locally. In fact, looking at color-coded maps of the congressional districts, I see the country is now solid red, with the exception of the small blue areas of the large cities. We have gone back to urban vs. rural — or perhaps worse, poor vs. all others, or even worse, a racial divide.

To me, the greater story in Arkansas isn’t the top of the ballot. Rather, it’s the greatest shift in the history of Arkansas politics.

If the numbers hold, it appears Arkansas Democrats have lost the races for lieutenant governor, secretary of state, and land commissioner. We have elected a lieutenant governor, Mark Darr, who is totally unknown and didn’t campaign in much of Arkansas. We have elected a secretary of state whose claim to the position — in part — is that he shares the name of a NASCAR driver. Shades of name-riders Paul Revere and Charlie Daniels. In doing so, we have denied that job to a county circuit clerk who did an excellent job and who was endorsed by virtually everyone.

I assume we would have elected a Republican auditor and treasurer, but there were no such candidates.

Arkansas, like most states, has local politics and state politics. We have elected Republican governors, senators, and house members in the past. Many of those victories were candidate-based; some were influenced by national politics. We have never elected Republican constitutional officers — other than governor and lieutenant governor — never. Every lead story the morning after the election contained the words “first time since Reconstruction.”

The current shift is even greater. The previous fortresses of the Democratic Party in Arkansas, the county courthouses, have crumbled. County after county not only fielded Republican candidates for county judge, sheriff, assessor, and such — they actually won. In the recent past, declaring as a Republican candidate for county office outside a few counties inhabited by refugees from the North was political suicide — a certain formula for defeat. Not this time.

The state legislature, already reduced to stepchild status by term limits, similarly will have meaningful minorities for the first time. It’s meager to say we are now a two-party state. The time when those minorities will be majorities is rapidly approaching. The color-coded map of Arkansas reflects that all that remains of the Democratic Party is the Delta. Unfortunately for all, that means it is also a party representing a constituency primarily comprised of African-Americans, who continue to cling to the party of their parents.

I recall the 1964 first race of Win Rockefeller. The seed he planted has produced a bumper crop.

Don Eilbott, a long-time Democrat and political activist and Democratic Party county chair, is of counsel with Jack, Nelson, Jones, Jiles & Gregory, P.A., in the firm’s Little Rock office. He can be reached at (501) 375-1122.