For the first time since Reconstruction, there is now a Republican majority in both houses of the state legislature. We’ve spent several weeks here at The Arkansas Project visiting with returning, conservative state lawmakers about their plans for the upcoming legislative session. From giving professors the right to carry on campus, to cutting taxes, to reforming Medicaid, to reforming election laws, the goals of these returning legislators seems to be clear: they want to make government smaller, more transparent, and limited. So where does this leave our state’s “moderate” Democrat Governor Mike Beebe?
Governor Beebe is an old-fashioned “Arkansas Democrat,” which has always been interpreted to mean “conservative, compassionate, and civil” in traditional, mainstream political thought. However, during his reign as governor, Beebe has advocated for countless tax increases, increased government regulation on businesses, and the overall growth of state government. Most recently, he has been the face of a movement to fully implement President Obama’s healthcare plan here in the state, despite the will of the people of Arkansas. Along with the plan comes a massive expansion of the state’s Medicaid program, which of course the feds promise to pay for — until they don’t. Last summer, he called fiscal conservatives “unamerican,” all the while demanding “civility” from his political opponents. All the while, Beebe has more or less retained his “commonsense, conservative” image — you know, they’re different than those big bad liberals in Washington D.C. that want to take your guns and all of your money. This is in spite of the fact that Beebe has not delivered on his promise to eliminate the state’s tax on groceries (although some state lawmakers are now advocating for this).
Now, Beebe has the unenviable task of ruling over a state government that is split between two parties — Republican majorities in both chambers of the ledge and himself, a Democrat, in the Governor’s mansion. What will he do? How will he govern? Will he exercise his veto power? If so, to what extent?
In Arkansas, our constitution prescribes that a simple majority vote is enough to override a gubernatorial veto. So in other words, if a bill has enough votes to pass both chambers and make it to the governor’s desk in the first place, it has enough votes to withstand a veto when sent back to the legislature (assuming none of the legislators change their votes). This mechanism essentially renders the governor’s veto pen powerless, if legislators hold the line.
Without any real veto authority, Beebe is given two basic choices: he can raise objections and take full advantage of his bully pulpit (which I expect) or he can go along quietly with these conservative reforms. Perhaps a third option — which I find most likely — is that he use his bully pulpit to speak out against the reforms, but put up little fight as the reforms trickle through. After all, at the end of the day, no one loves Beebe more than Beebe does and he will do whatever it takes to preserve his legacy. When things change, as they have already begun to, and the state begins to turn around, Beebe won’t want to be on the losing side.
We cannot continue on the path that we have been on for the last 150+ years. The voters understand that. The majority of legislators understand that. As reforms begin to make their way through the ledge, perhaps Governor Beebe will begin to understand that as well. Right now his legacy is this: He’s the only sitting Democratic governor to lose control of both (either) chambers of the legislature. How he governs from this point forward will ultimately determine how history remembers him.