Now that an early campaign season is underway (seriously, get used to it, it’s going to get earlier and earlier until Arkansas joins the 24/7 campaign cycle like the majority of the country), it’s time we started looking over some voting records. Two of our three announced Democratic candidates for Congress are state legislators, and with Republicans already digging around looking for anything they might use in their records as weapons the exercise serves a double purpose-not only does it give us an idea what these guys would be like in Congress before we actually send them there, it also gives us a chance to avoid being surprised by anything. So, in this post I’m taking a look at Clark Hall, with another one in the not so distant future for Gene Jeffress. I guess I should also note that my tool of choice for these evaluations is the handy dandy scorecard put out every session by Citizens First Congress, seeing as they’ve already done all the hard work of collecting and examining all the votes of importance to progressives like us. For Hall’s voting record, we’re looking at votes cast in 2011, 2009, and 2007.
First let me say that, in terms of Arkansas Democrats in the legislature, Hall’s record is far from the worst, and he did cast some really good votes. There’s no hanging bill or any other atrocious nonsense to be found, at least not that I can tell. He voted against the worst things Arkansas Republicans offered up in this last nightmare of a legislative session, making himself a far more tolerable Democrat than Nate Steele, John Vines, Marshall Wright, or former pretend Democrat Linda Collins-Smith…not that any of those guys set a high bar. For example, Hall had the good sense to vote against the capital gains tax elimination-you know, the massive tax cut for the rich that would have bankrupted the state and lead to jobs cuts that Republicans are now pathetically trying to spin as a jobs bill. (Seriously, if Hall and his campaign team can’t shoot that one down, then they don’t need to be wasting our time.)
So, taking that in stride, it may be that Hall isn’t likely to be a clone of Mike Ross. Rather, he’s much more likely to be like the last Democrat that represented this district, Marion Berry, who admittedly had his good points. However, Berry also had some serious flaws as a Congressman, and so does Clark Hall. And yes, we are now moving on to the part of this post that Hall and his campaign team are really not going to like.
The first red flag that his record sends up is that he didn’t cast a vote on the bullying bill presented in the last session. Now he may have a good reason for that, I don’t know-he could have been sick, had a family emergency, or any number of other things. But that said, with the wave of teen suicides as a result of bullying that has swept the country this was an important vote and Hall not only owes us an explanation but better have a damn good one. But perhaps more concerning is his vote to permanently cap unemployment benefits (barring a change through future legislation) in the worst recession since the great depression. To be fair, Hall had a lot of company in that horrible vote. As a union buddy told me, Arkansas was the only state with a legislature controlled by Democrats that did something so draconian. However, just because other Democrats (and the Republicans of course) were playing a game of screw struggling families doesn’t give Hall any excuse for joining in. And that’s not the only bad vote Hall joined the crowd on either. He voted to end the limit on charter schools and voted to restrict public input on utilities (read power plants) related projects, a move that takes away both environmental oversight and protections for private property rights.. Both were pretty bad votes that he, sadly, enjoyed a lot of company in casting (the later was practically unanimous). However, since the Republican approach to the unemployed falls just short of sticking poor people in a giant blender and their approach to the environment is to call in the super villains from Captain Planet, I somehow doubt we’ll see them using either of those votes in the general election.
Going back further (all the way to his first term in the House in ’07), we find that Hall has always had a pretty lousy environmental record having voted, get this, to ban anonymous tips of environmental pollution. Most of those tips are anonymous, as many of the folks reporting that companies are polluting tend to be the employees of the polluters who want to protect their job but actually have a conscience. (For my Republican readers, a conscience is that thing that many of us have in our heads, and which most of you apparently lack, that makes us feel bad when we know we’ve done something wrong. I have no time to explain to you what the words feelings and wrong mean…) So yeah, Hall has a crappy record on the environment. But again, it’s nothing that Republicans are likely to use on him, especially with Rick Crawford trying to destroy the EPA and let big agribusiness and industry dump everything from motor oil to pig shit in our water.
But there is one vote that’s really troublesome. In 2009, Hall voted against an ethics bill that would have barred members of state boards and commissions from voting on issues they have a financial stake in. This vote is one that’s likely to come back and haunt Hall, and it should, it was a bad vote that he shouldn’t have cast. There’s no sense in Democrats trying to look over it either. It’s there in his voting record for everyone to see and Republicans are likely to use it eventually. Hall’s got to deal with that, and frankly I think he deserves whatever flack he gets for voting against it. And yeah, he’s got a long list of names, Democrat and Republican, that ought to answer for it with him. No sympathy.
The last thing I guess I need to cover here is the attempt by Republicans to hit Hall with his “free money” gaffe and the Affordable Care Act. Here what I would point out is that the choice is between the federal government handling the Affordable Care Act in Arkansas or the state creating and regulating an insurance exchange. The Republican position on this, in their attempt to be against all things “Obamacare”, has become pretty nonsensical. If Hall can put his gaffe behind him and frame the debate in those terms he can change the game on that front. More concerning to me though is the fact that, while considering a run for Congress, he said something that any idiot would have figured Republicans would rush to pencil down. It shows the same lack of message discipline that his jobs bill gaffe does. On the political side, that is what worries me the most about Hall. On the public policy side, I have more serious concerns.
Again, I stress that Hall is not the worst we could do here. Think back to last year’s runoff when the choice was hapless Blue Dog Chad Causey and right wing lunatic Tim Wooldridge. Back then we sucked it up and threw our support behind Chad to beat Wooldridge and Crawford in the general. Remember, we’ve got to look at the big picture, and if it’s a choice between Hall, who despite his flaws does cast some good votes, and Rick Crawford, we’ll get behind Hall. That doesn’t mean that we’ll stop holding his feet to the fire mind you, but we don’t do that for anyone. But on the other hand, looking through this record, I now have some serious concerns and if Democrats can get a better nominee for this district then we had better do it. 2012 is going to be tough, that’s no secret. And if we’re going to take back the first then there’s little to no room for error.