A Business Victory (Jeff Hankins Publisher's Note)

The primary elections in Arkansas delivered a full-frontal assault on business, and I'm pleased to report we survived it.

Particularly in the U.S. Senate campaign, we saw national labor unions swoop in and do everything possible to punish Blanche Lincoln for her opposition to the card-check legislation that would have made unionization easy and created havoc and lost jobs in a right-to-work state. They lured an opportunistic candidate in Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, who thought his success with the lottery would translate to personal political success.

The anti-business climate is typical of a recession with substantial job losses. Today's situation was heightened by the near-meltdown of the global financial system that required the U.S. government to step in and rescue major financial and insurance institutions from their extraordinary risk-taking and poor decisions. We can and should continue to be irritated with "Wall Street" over its role in the crisis, but the Bush administration, Congress and the Federal Reserve did what they had to do at the time to prevent a far more severe financial crisis.

Halter and the unions attacked Lincoln not only for what was a responsible vote, but also for looking out for agricultural business interests in Arkansas. In their views, a U.S. senator from Arkansas is supposed to oppose legislation that benefits the likes of Tyson Foods and Riceland Foods. I'll give voters credit for recognizing that two Arkansas-based companies that have significant roles in the world's food supply and employ tens of thousands of workers aren't the enemy.

Here's a note to Halter, the unions, remaining Arkansas candidates and any other liberals who want to build themselves up with attacks on business: Don't try to trumpet jobs creation in the same breath. No company wants to open in or move to a state with an anti-business and pro-union climate, and you'll be in no position to negotiate with CEOs. Just ask Michigan or California how they are faring today.

Lincoln showed once again that moderate candidates of either party generally are going to fare best in Arkansas statewide offices in today's political era. In November, that may be how she holds onto her seat against U.S. Rep. John Boozman, who is a strong conservative.

I think Boozman will work hard to keep Lincoln tied closely to the increasingly less popular President Obama. Lincoln will have to distance herself a bit while not alienating those black voters who were critical to her nomination and will be critical to win.

As for business, either Lincoln or Boozman will be strong for Arkansas. Lincoln might not be in the picture for business if she had not stood up against card check and public health insurance.

And for the national union bosses and their money? Good riddance. Their reward in the Arkansas election is either a ticked-off Lincoln or their worst nightmare with conservative Boozman.

Here are some additional observations about last week's runoff elections:

  • Halter's future political career in a word: over. The guy rolled the dice and nearly pulled off the victory, so I'll give him credit for guts. But to get all that national money, earn the support of the state's most liberal columnists and not be able to capitalize on the "change" and "anti-establishment" national messages ultimately represents significant political failure.
  • Joyce Elliott's performance in the 2nd District Democratic primary was consistent with how U.S. Rep. Vic Snyder has performed through the years: She dominated Pulaski County, and that was enough to overcome losses in the district's other seven counties. House Speaker Robbie Wills won the suburbs by 2-to-1 margins but still came up 5,000 votes short. Elliott's race against Republican Tim Griffin will be a fun one to watch. Griffin's key will be swaying independent voters in Pulaski County.
  • Chad Causey of Jonesboro made an impressive comeback to win the Democratic nomination in the close 1st Congressional District race against Tim Wooldridge. Causey won his hometown, carried the southern half of the district and clearly benefited from African-American votes. Wooldridge won Paragould and the more conservative counties. As the former chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Marion Berry, Causey is widely seen as a congressman who will have a big head start as a freshman and could benefit the district quicker. He still has to get past the GOP's Rick Crawford, but I think business leaders in northeast Arkansas will stand behind Causey.

Jeff Hankins can be reached via e-mail at JHankins@ABPG.com, or followed on Twitter @JeffHankins and on Facebook at Facebook.com/Jeff.Hankins.