Arkansas Democrat-Gazette political columnist meets with Gwen


JOHN BRUMMETT: The seeds are planted

By John Brummett 

Good writing can cut to the quick, and she is a good writer, which I knew already from her days as a newspaper colleague.

Her email of Tuesday evening began: "Please, please, for the sake of the women who still read (albeit reluctantly) the opining of white, male newspaper columnists, don't fawn over a white, privileged, Harvard-educated man who, let's remember, does happen to have two competitors in the race for the seat in the 2nd Congressional District."

Before she was done, she had said "women are on the move" and "you come across as yet another aging, condescending white guy who just can't reconcile himself to the fact that things have changed," and "your voice does not resonate with Arkansas voters," and "my respect for you has been diminished."

I don't need to identify her. I only need to share her views and consider them.

What I'd done was publish a column Tuesday pretty much pre-emptively endorsing state Rep. Clarke Tucker of Little Rock for the Democratic nomination for Congress from the 2nd District.

I'd called him the best young Democratic talent in the state, based on observing him in the minority party at the state Legislature for four years.

I'd included a perfunctory sentence about the two previously announced Democratic candidates--Paul Spencer, the Catholic High teacher with a citizen's record of pushing ethics reform and who advocates Medicare for all; and Gwen Combs, a teacher and Air Force veteran who organized the local women's march inspired by the national one in January 2017 to celebrate women on the move and protest that grabby atrocity, Donald Trump.

I'd written that Spencer and Combs were worthy candidates, too, which was to pat them lightly on their heads.

I'd given myself away as favoring demonstrated establishment competence like Tucker's over outsiders with more evident passion, like Spencer and Combs. Accusations that I'd given myself away as sexist seem to be complicated by the fact that I treated Spencer and Combs equally dismissively.

But that's for women to say and for me to learn.

These matters carry a certain nuance. My position was not greatly different from that of City Director Kathy Webb, who told me at a coffee shop Wednesday morning, "I'd vote for Clarke over me."

Properly shamed by my email assailant, I proceeded to sit down at a local Starbucks with Combs to make an opening acquaintance, better late than never. I hope soon to deepen an already existing acquaintance with Spencer.

Alas, to my further shame, Combs pointed out that we'd met already. It was when we sat beside each other and chatted last year at an Indivisible Central Arkansas meeting in west Little Rock where we both spoke--to defend the media against Trump's attacks in my case and, in hers, promote the women's movement growing out of the local march.

Combs had greeted Tucker's entry into the race by saying his background was too much like Hill's in its privilege. That struck some people as more negative than she intended.

"We felt like we needed to say something because we were getting asked if we were going to drop out because Clarke was running," she said.

All she meant, she said, was that she was in the race to stay because of a factor I take to be the essence of her campaign.

It's that French Hill must be defeated specifically for his health-care vote--she, like Spencer, favors Medicare for all--but, more generally, because he represents a political establishment wholly out of touch with people's lives. So, should he get to the general election ballot, Tucker would strike many as too much like Hill--by background, by station in life, by charcoal business suit, by attachment to the political class.

"I'd be distinctively different," she said.

All of this is good--for a columnist needing to be scolded into a broader, more open and more current perspective; for anyone interested in vigorous and open political debate; and for the beleaguered state Democratic Party.

Four years ago, Arkansas Democrats struggled to find a single candidate for anything. They talked down anyone who might want to challenge that candidate, fearful that a primary would be divisive.

But a party nomination not worth fighting for turns out to be one without much value in the general election.

What we may be seeing is the seeding of a new state Democratic Party in which anti-establishment liberals (like Combs and Spencer), women's movement progressives (like Combs) and solid center-left establishment types with impeccable credentials (like Tucker) give no quarter and ask for none until one of them emerges, made stronger by their honest combat, to fight the Republicans with the respectful backing of the others.

Moving from anemic and cowering to divided and combative would be an improvement for Arkansas Democrats.


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

Editorial on 02/11/2018

Print Headline: The seeds are planted

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.