Best of Frenemies: Inside Mike Beebe and the GOP's Love-Hate Relationship (AP Analysis)

by Andrew DeMillo, The Associated Press  on Sunday, Mar. 3, 2013 2:08 pm  

The complicated nature of Gov. Mike Beebe's relationship with the GOP is steadily becoming apparent as Beebe and the rest of the state are adjusting to the first Republican legislative majority in 138 years. (Photo by Mike Pirnique)

Both sides are approaching each other delicately, and with good reason. Republicans realize that Beebe remains popular in the state despite GOP victories at nearly every level in recent years.

Beebe knows his push for expanding health coverage to low-income Arkansans — an idea that has shifted from expanding Medicaid to using private insurance on the health exchange — is dead unless he can win over a party that has based its campaign the past two elections on opposing the federal health care law. The disagreements over social issues may also pale in comparison to the late-session wrangling over the state's budget and a GOP push for tax cuts that the governor says the state can't afford.

That's why Beebe used his State of the State address to the House and Senate to remind lawmakers that he's a product of the legislative branch.

"The legislative branch of government is the first branch of government for a lot of good reasons," Beebe, a 20-year veteran of the state Senate, told lawmakers. "Our founding fathers set it up that way. You're in charge of the public policy of this state, and you are in charge of the money."

Beebe is also making it clear he won't let Republicans have their way on everything, criticizing a GOP-backed plan in the House to put a cap on state spending growth. It's an idea that Beebe warns would "wreak havoc" on the state's budget.

"We've got a great budget system. Why they'd want to monkey with it after it's been good for, what, 70 years and some guy that's been here a little while wants to change something like that because he doesn't like what's going on in Washington, I just don't see that as appropriate," Beebe told lawmakers.

House Majority Leader Bruce Westerman, the "some guy" Beebe referenced, said the disagreement between him and Beebe over the bill isn't personal.

"I think he doesn't like it because it puts more of the budgeting control in the legislative hands and takes it out of the executive's hands," said Westerman, R-Hot Springs. "He's the governor and I respect him. By most people's standards, he's done a good job, but we happen to be in total opposite disagreement on this."

With questions remaining about the state's budget and Medicaid that won't be resolved until the session's final weeks, the biggest tests of the relationship between Beebe and Legislature are yet to come.

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