Gov. Mike Beebe expressed outrage last week over a television ad sponsored by a conservative interest group. He may be borrowing a strategy from Muhammad Ali’s infamous Rumble in the Jungle.
The ad that got Beebe so worked up was from Americans for Prosperity, which formed a state chapter and has gotten involved in local elections for the past couple of years. The group is backed financially by Koch Industries, owners of a multitude of corporations, including Georgia-Pacific, which employs several thousand people in Arkansas.
The ad had a pretty standard conservative message.
“For those that came before us, Arkansas was the land of opportunity. But government debt, higher taxes and the everyday cost of living are slowly eroding opportunities for all Arkansans. That’s why economic freedom is imperative to Arkansas. We can make this a better place to live – full of opportunity and prosperity,” the ad said.
The governor, a Democrat, saw it just before addressing a group of around 400 business leaders at the Arkansas Governor’s Quality Award event in Little Rock . He used that opportunity to express his frustration, telling the crowd, “When they trash Arkansas, they’re trashing you.”
That theme continued most of last week with Beebe even taking on Americans for Prosperity by name in his weekly column. Beebe also emphasized two points he believed made the ad unfair.
First, Beebe pointed to a study in Education Week magazine that he claims shows Arkansas is fifth in education. My colleague Steve Brawner wrote an excellent column earlier this year explaining how this study shows the state passed the wrong test. In short, the study examined how well the state is implementing education policies such as the Common Core standards. But it does not measure student achievement and graduation rates, where Arkansas still lags.
Second, Beebe has taken credit for creating 27,000 new jobs under his administration. When pressed by reporters on that point, he said that is the number of jobs the state has announced plans to create. The U.S Bureau of Labor statistics show Arkansas has lost ground on the number of jobs since Beebe took office.
Neither of those things is shocking and neither is meant to trash Arkansas. Under the last four years under President Obama, the nation has seen a horrible economic downturn. People can disagree on the solutions to problems, but it takes a disconnect with reality to think everything is fine now.
Recent polling numbers indicate trouble for Democrats when it comes to holding a majority in the Legislature. A poll from Talk Business last week showed Arkansas voters prefer a Republican Legislature to a Democratic Legislature by a 13-point margin. That generic number can’t be applied to every race, but it does show the uphill battle Democrats face.
The same poll shows that Beebe is still very popular in Arkansas with a 64 percent approval rating. His popularity is in direct contrast to President Obama, who is 20 points down in Arkansas in the same poll.
So perhaps Beebe’s insertion of himself into the debate is a plan to change the message from an unpopular president vs. Republicans to a popular governor against the GOP — the old Ali “rope-a-dope” strategy.
In the 1974 heavyweight match between Ali and George Foreman, Ali purposefully angered Foreman and then retreated to the ropes and allowed Foreman to punch away. Although it appeared Ali was getting pummeled, he actually was not and instead was wearing out Foreman. Ali then was able to defeat an exhausted Foreman in the later rounds of the fight. Maybe that’s what Beebe hopes to accomplish against Republicans.
Perhaps the ad from Americans for Prosperity was just what Beebe needed to climb in the ring and draw voter attention in his direction.
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Jason Tolbert is an accountant and conservative political blogger. His blog — The Tolbert Report — is linked at ArkansasNews.com. His e-mail is jason@TolbertReport.com