Arkansas politicians graded and ranked

A reader in Fort Smith sends an electronic message inviting me to do something. Actually, I get a lot of messages from readers inviting me to do something. But this qualifies as that rare invitation I actually can relate in a family newspaper.


The reader mentioned that Molly Ivins, a liberal columnist from Texas, had described President Bush as “good at politics but lousy at governance.” Such a division of aptitudes intrigued the reader. He wondered if I would kindly assess the current crop of Arkansas politicians on that bifurcated basis.

I will do so, partly because it sounds like a snap and partly because it might actually be instructive. Running for office and holding office indeed are wholly disconnected roles requiring wholly disconnected talents.


What I’ll do is give six major Arkansas political figures two letter grades, one for political skills and another for governing skills. Then I’ll compile the grade-point averages for each for an overall ranking of effectiveness in the combined roles.

I’ll not include Bill Clinton, since he’s retired, more or less. For the record, he would have received an A for politics and a B for governing. I will, however, include his wife Hillary, since she remains dimly tied to Arkansas and may in fact follow Geena Davis to become our second woman president.


Let’s start there:

—Hillary Clinton, a C for politics, because she’s not easily warm and is unproved as a campaigner except in New York, where she enjoyed great natural advantages; and a C for governing that would have been an A based on her intelligent and coalition-building performance as a freshman senator but was brought down by the F she fully earned in the White House with that arrogant, secretive, ham-handed health care debacle.

—Mike Huckabee, an A for politics, because he’s well-spoken and funny and possessed of a common touch; and a C for governing that averages the A he earned in the state’s Katrina response with the D’s and F’s he gets otherwise for being detached during legislative sessions, turning Wayne Dumond loose and living in a permanently gray area ethically in his acceptance of gifts.

—Mike Beebe, who perhaps should get an I for incomplete on politics because he’s never had an opponent, but who in these very early stages of campaigning for governor has shown himself good enough at the most important part of politics — raising money — to earn at least a solid C; and, in governing, a B that averages the A’s he earned over two decades in the state Senate with the C’s he must be assigned for an uneven performance as attorney general.


—Asa Hutchinson, a C in politics because, after all, he’s run two statewide races and won neither; and a C in governing because, after all, he ran federal government agencies charged with drug and border enforcement, and progress was not reported on either.

—Blanche Lincoln, a B for politics because she manages even as a Democrat to stay ingratiated in rural Arkansas, and a B on governing because she has developed through her service on the Finance Committee an actual command of complex issues especially relevant to her underprivileged constituency, such as Medicare, Medicaid, prescription drugs and tax credits.

—Mark Pryor, a B for politics that would be an A except that I can’t be sure he’d have accomplished as much if he had a different father, and, frankly, an A for governing, solely because of his leadership even as a freshman in forging that centrist coalition known as the Gang of 14 that accomplished nothing less than keeping the U.S. Senate functional.

Here, then, are the rankings by grade point averages.

1. Pryor, 3.5.

2. (tie) Huckabee, Lincoln, 3.0.

3. Beebe, 2.5

4. (tie) Hillary, Hutchinson, 2.0

Postscript: The state’s four members of the U.S. House of Representatives were not included for two reasons: space and that they don’t have any actual governing influence in Washington.